Along the Tracks

Monday, April 28, 2003

Grab your torches and pitchforks!

Today’s editorial page of the New York Times is a Bush-bashing mob act, with not one, two or three, but four editorials targeting the president. Also throwing gas on the fire is liberal hack Frank Rich. Those poll numbers must look too good to Times bigwig Howell Raines. How much longer till we find out how George W. has failed as a parent, sent millions of children to the streets to starve and kicked his dog till it cried?

Speaking of Rich ...

How many times are we going to have to be browbeaten by the left on the U.S. military “allowing” the looting of Baghdad’s National Museum and Library? What happened was horrible; I am a ravenous reader of ancient history, and the artifacts and documents held in those two locations were priceless indeed, and their ascetic beauty ranks with the all-time masterpieces. I also believe their should be a formal investigation and report on how the military planned and executed the Baghdad takeover, so we can understand why those crucial facilities remained unsecured for two or three days after the statue fell.

But let’s look at a couple facts before we blame Don Rumsfeld, or anyone in our military for that matter. First, the key to the rapid success of this war, and the accompanying minimal loss of Iraqi lives and damage to Iraqi facilities, was the flexible aggressiveness shown by American forces. When Baghdad was surrounded, the military commanders could have simply sat back and waited for the resistance to crumble - maybe a couple of weeks or more. Instead, they saw the few effective fighters were on their heels and could be torn apart immediately. They also realized that waiting would be to the advantage of the fedayeen and other paramilitary forces which would need to organize a “guerilla” defense and distribute forces and ammo. The emotions of the Iraqi people could best be used to allied advantage by powerful demonstrations that the coalition forces could move in and out of Baghdad at will, crushing any resistance found. So that’s the choice commanders made. In such a takeover, some portions of the city would inevitably be more “secured” than others, and in all cases, the primary focus would be armed resistance to the coalition - not street crime. It should be noted, the Finance Ministry was also looted and burned, much to the chagrin of investigators hoping to find documentation on smuggling, payments to terrorists and purchases of illegal arms from a variety of countries and companies.

Second, substantial portions of Baghdad (and other cities) have hardly seen an American tank, even now. Once the above mentioned demonstration of allied authority was successful, the people rose up, as many observers had expected. Iraqis liberated much of their own city by entering the streets and pushing the fedayeen to some few last holdouts or the roads out of town. The energy released in this jubilation was targeted at symbols of the state. Unfortunately, the museum and library, largely off limits to the Iraqi people under Saddam, were among those targets.

Finally, let’s not underestimate common criminality in what occurred. Most of the “looting” in the museum and library now appears to have been a highly-organized, professional endeavor. Those items are most likely going to turn up on the black market. That doesn’t make their loss any less lamentable, but it does raise the question: How exactly was a military force in the middle of combat to pick the most likely locations where heists were under plan, then secure them, without damaging the war plan itself, which was focused on protecting people, not things? The portions of the damage and break-ins which really were “looting” were minimal, and those that attempted to trash those buildings were mostly chased away by staff and conscientious Iraqis - the very people who would care the most and be best situated to protect the buildings.

The museum and library thefts and burning were regrettable, but they were perpetrated by Iraqis, not coalition forces. Those who actually performed the mayhem are responsible for it. The only information which might change my mind would be that American forces were well situated and equipped to protect those buildings in complete alignment with their military objectives, and instead stepped aside as part of a deliberate decision to allow the destruction.

And that’s why we need an investigation and report.

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