Peter's War Journal

April 23 - Interesting that the expected wave of suicide attacks never really materialized, despite my ominous words of warning. (I was not the only one - Nick Kristof published a gentlemanly article on the Times op-ed page yesterday, admitting that many of his dovish warnings about the war seem in retrospect to have been off the mark.)

What's going on here? It seems that there really were a fair number of foreign Arab fighters in Iraq to do jihad against the Coalition, but most of their fighting seemed to have been conventional. Is it that the idea of blowing yourself up only appeals to properly brain-washed teenage boys in Palestine who are too young to travel to foreign lands? Is it because a suicide bomber must have absolute confidence in the justice of his cause, in order to be able to count on a proper martyrdom (not to mention to get up the necessary nerve), whereas the war in Iraq has been too morally murky? Is it because blowing yourself up only works against an opponent in a defensive posture, while the Coalition forces were too aggressive to serve as targets? (If this last, it is still possible that we will see a few explosions now that the intense phase of the fighting is over and the Coalition forces are transformed into more vulnerable policemen.)

In the end, I suppose there was always something ludicrous about expecting the Arabs to fight a war by blowing themselves up. In the heat of battle, surely a soldier is intimately aware of the dangers around him to life and limb, and the possibility of being harmed by an exploding enemy soldier can hardly add much to that.


April 29 - I have a confession to make - I have become rabidly intolerant of the entire Arab world. Please don't quote me, however, without including all of the footnotes and explanatory comments.

Before the first Gulf War, my general impression of Arabs was vaguely positive, although not really based on anything other than movie caricatures taken from Indiana Jones - hospitable and cultured, but living in a rough part of the planet and having a backward economy based on subsistence farming overlaid with humongous oil wealth.

Similarly, I had very little in the way of perspective on Islam. It seemed exotic, but otherwise I had no feeling that it was fundamentally different from Christianity - there is a God who'll kick your butt if you don't do what He says, and He mostly says to pray a lot to Him, abide by His rules governing criminal and civil behavior, and feel good at being part of His family.

Since then, we have seen the armed Palestinian Intifada , the rise of al Qaeda, the war in Afghanistan and now the war in Iraq, and its messy aftermath. To my dismay, I find that these events have totally transformed my general impression of Arabs and even to some extent of Islam. Arabs now represent something vile and hateful to me. A lot of this is doubtless a reaction to becoming aware of the hatred many Arabs bear towards Americans, but it goes a lot further than that. In the last few days, we have seen how bad behavior by Arabs - all the looting and the shooting - is so easily blamed on the US. Why should anyone give the slightest credence to the wild stories of how we are responsible for everything bad, without the slightest consideration of the potential good staring them in the face? My stereotype of the Arabs is now sneaky, cowardly, hiding behind their own women and children and then blaming others when that leads to loss of innocent life. Ungrateful, unwilling to give up traditional animosities to try to make a new start. Radical Islam destroys anything attractive or tolerant in the Arab culture and injects hate into everything. Under its influence, Arabs have turned into ignorant, doctrinaire whiners and wankers. Screw 'em all. The next time al Qaeda attacks American soil, I'm going to be among those who say that the Arabs are a lost cause, let's crank up the nukes and just get rid of them all.

Whew! I'm feeling better now, thank you. Of course, I bitterly oppose any kind of global judgement on any large group of people of the kind expressed in the last paragraph. I believe that people are fundamentally much the same everywhere - a mixture of good and bad and a lot of in-between - and I believe that applies just as much to the Arabs as to other peoples. But cultures really can be very different from each other, and this is what one really means when one rants about "Arabs" or "Americans". And what I currently see of the Arab/Muslim culture seems to be long on ferocity and destruction of enemies and short on the qualities needed to produce things of value and to make the world a better place.


May 2 - Suddenly, I get it! It's all about that joke that used to go around the Arab world - Hey, Mohammed! What happens if you launch a terrorist strike against the US, killing thousands of innocent people? I don't know, Abdul, what does happen? The Americans'll sue you!!! What a thigh-slapper!

This dovetails with two events - first, Gulf War I, and second, Somalia. You might think that Gulf War I would have persuaded the Arab world that we were tough, but I think the actual message that got through was that we were wimps - well-armed wimps, perhaps, but unwilling to follow through on the conflict with Saddam if it entailed a danger of taking casualties. And then the events in Somalia reinforce the same message - the US goes in, confident of its military power, but when one little helicopter goes down and they start taking casualties, they run back to mother America with their tails between their legs. Not real men at all, by Arab standards: hence the joke.

The retaliation against al Qaeda in Afghanistan certainly made the point yet again about our military superiority, but I think our reluctance to put troops on the ground possibly cost us the capture of bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders and showcased once again our squeamishness about stepping in harm's way. The importance of going back into Iraq, then, was to show that we were not only well-armed, but were willing to do what had to be done to kick Saddam's butt this time. Yes, we may make more Arabs mad at us by invading one of the best-armed and potentially richest countries in Arabia, but they'll have to take us seriously now! So maybe we don't need to address the root cause of Arab hatred, as I have stressed in earlier posts, after all. It would be nice if we could do it, but maybe we don't have any effective leverage over it anyway. The campaign for hearts and minds is not really needed - just our willingness to fight until the job is done. The Arabs may end up saying that the Americans are still hateful but at least they're real men and it doesn't make sense to mess with them.

The real question for me is - what about all of those hours of angst that I have endured trying to formulate an explanation based on subtle reasoning rather than testosterone? Well, I don't really think that the Administration is reacting strictly from the gonads, but rather that it took some subtle reasoning power to come up with invading Iraq as a way of restoring America's virility. In the eyes of much of Europe, of course, this has been interpreted as America's arrogance and unconcern about others - all qualities intimately associated with an excess of testosterone. In the middle east, an excess might be just about right.

My friend Jorge says - then Bush lied about why he got us into the war! All that crap about terrorist connections and WMD was just made up to justify the invasion, which is outrageous! I agree a bit - it seems a shame that Bush couldn't have said - hey, not only do the Arabs hate us but they think we are a bunch of pussies! We can't have them thinking that of us or they'll be blowing up our shit all over the world. Let's kick some Arab butt!

On the other hand, it doesn't sound very dignified for a chief of state, so it seems appropriate for him to have told a little white lie. And the main thing is whether the war ends up being the right thing or not. And of course we won't know that for quite a while, so let's all relax and enjoy the vicarious thrill of being a studly nation.


May 9 - Finally! Definitive photographic evidence that Saddam was in bed with terrorists the whole time! Just as we thought!


May 13 - Al Qaeda strikes again - this time in Saudi Arabia. Last night, co-ordinated teams of terrorists shot their way into several western compounds where US and other foreign workers live and detonated huge truckloads of explosives. Eight Americans and 30 or more other westerners killed, hundreds wounded. This came in spite of the fact that US intelligence had clearly and publicly indicated that an attack in Saudi Arabia appeared to be imminent and the Saudis had been asked to provide additional security. Only a week or so ago, the Saudis actually uncovered a suspected al Qaeda cell in Riyadh, trying and failing to capture 19 operatives and succesfully capturing weapons, disguises and 800 lbs of high explosives. Now it appears that some of those operatives may have participated in last night's attack.

What does this say about my earlier ruminations about how they won't mess with us any more, now we have shown the world the size of our cojones? Well, it certainly suggests that al Qaeda hasn't folded their tent and moved on to other pursuits, which in itself isn't that surprising. But it is at least consistent with the notion that they have realized that their attack on US soil was disastrous for them, and have decided to rely on attacks that will primarily endanger the enemy Arab governments rather than the US itself. This clarifies the true struggle that is going on: it is a civil war in Saudi Arabia between religious extremists and the monarchy. Westerners are convenient tools of this war, since they are linked to the monarchy, but their main value as targets is that they can easily be scared into leaving the country, which will be a blow to the western-syle economy, although of course a lot of the westerners who will leave will be doctors and dentists whose absence will only harm the Arab in the streets.

On the other hand, it probably doesn't really mean anything, beyond the fact that al Qaeda is alive and well. I certainly would be reluctant to conclude that homeland security is now assured. Being responsible for killing thousands of Americans on their home turf will always always give al Qaeda a lot of credibility in the Arab world, which is doubtless a great tool for attracting money and recruits.


May 17 - And again! Coordinated explosions in Casablanca kill 40, hundreds wounded, in attacks seemingly aimed against a mish-mash of western bad-guys - the Spanish for participating in the coalition that ousted Saddam and the Jews for being those dirty rotten Semites that they are. And the Belgians? Perhaps their association with the hated Brussel sprouts?

I confess that this baffles me, assuming that al Qaeda is responsible, which seems likely. I had just convinced myself (see previous post) that all of the anti-western rhetoric and actions were incidental to the ultimate goal of overthrowing the Saudi monarchy. That fits in with the largely Saudi nationality of the leaders of al Qaeda and their strongly-stated desire for regime-change there. All other activities targeted against the US could be interpreted as either an effort to intimidate the US into reducing their commitment to stand by the monarchy or as part of a recruitment drive by bolstering their position as the only effective global force for radical Islam.

So how does this attack fit into that scheme? Why pick on Spain? Why involve Casablanca, a largely westernized city remote from Arabia? I suppose that I can justify anything by the "recruitment drive" argument, given the unpopularity of the west in Arab and Muslim countries, but that is precisely the weakness of that explanation. Perhaps my assumptions about al Qaeda have been wrong all the time - maybe their struggle against the Saudi monarchy is only incidental to their main goal. Which is ... what? Driving westerners out of Arabia? Rekindling the crusades? Provoking an apocalyptic confrontation between Islam and Christianity?

Well, now I have to go back to admitting that I haven't a clue what is going on. There are only two things that I do believe. The first is that it would be a terrible mistake to believe that they are just a bunch of crazed, irrational religious fanantics. I believe firmly that they are not acting at random or out of petulance, and every move they make is designed to bring them closer to their ultimate goal. After each engagement with the enemy, they sit down and figure out how things went and adjust their strategies accordingly. Killing infidels, even by the thousands, does not constitute a viable ultimate goal, although it could potentially be the warm-up to the apocalyptic confrontation alluded to in the previous paragraph.

The second is that they do believe some weird shit, for sure, which makes it incredibly difficult for rational westerners to figure out what they are really up to. So I think I'll just sit tight for a while until someone can give me a plausible explanation of what's happening. And so, good-night.


May 19 - The fifth Hamas suicide bomber in three days blows himself up, killing the usual assortment of innocent bystanders. The objective of this latest campaign is obviously to torpedo the talks between the new Palestinian prime minister and the Israelis. The Israelis, rightly, will refuse to negotiate any agreement with Mahmoud Abbas if he cannot show that he controls the violence at his end, and so the killing and hatred will continue.

One of the most depressing thing I saw on TV about it was an interview by one of the networks of a senior spokesman for Hamas. The interviewer was asking how it could possibly be in the interest of the average Palestinian for Hamas to send suicide bombers in order to make sure that the peace process does not get anywhere. His answer to this - and to every other question - was that Sharon was the problem, Sharon was the terrorist, Sharon was the one sending the tanks, Sharon was killing innocent Palestinians. It seemed silly for him to grant an interview, given how totally he ducked the central issue of how his actions were going to help the situation. The final impression was that Hamas does war, not peace, and nothing could happen that would stop them from attacking Israel - presumably short of all the Israelis being driven into the sea. Perhaps he can't imagine what he could do in peace-time and he didn't want to lose his job.


May 21 - From Persepolis, an account of the Iran-Iraq war in comic book form, by Iranian Marjane Satrapi. This refers to the recruitment of Iranian children as "martyrs", completely kitted out with a key to paradise, to act as minesweepers. If you don't step on a mine, that's good. If you do step on a mine, that's better - you go straight to paradise. Either way, the army know what route to take through the minefield.


May 22 - Salam Pax is back! Here's his first post since the electricity went out.