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The trial of George W Bush
March 26, 2003
George Bush is a bully.' 'The American president cares nothing for the opinion of the world.'
President Bush is on trial. And judging by some of the comments that I have read recently, he has already been found guilty as well. Yet when I read the accounts of the campaign being waged in Iraq, what I sense is the overwhelming restraint with which this war is being conducted.
Many have compared this war unfavourably with the one fought under the aegis of the first President Bush. But the current incumbent of the White House stands the test quite well. It was the first Bush, for instance, who raised the rhetorical level by comparing the Iraqi dictator to Adolf Hitler; Bush II has not done so. And then there is the war itself. In 1991, the land campaign was preceded by over forty days of heavy-duty aerial bombardment; this time, the targets have been chosen carefully. To date, no air-raid shelter has been hit -- which is what happened in 1991. So why is everyone out to hammer President Bush?
It is partly his own fault. He raised the bar for himself by setting some high standards for the conduct of the war. He has promised to achieve his goals with a minimal number of casualties amongst his own men. Second, he has vowed that there shall be very little damage to the infrastructure of Iraq and even less harm to Iraqi civilians.
Waging war without hurting the enemy is no easy task!
Of course, Bush's options are far fewer than were available to his predecessors in the White House during World War II or the Korean War. In those days, it was taken for granted that war meant people dying, whether it was one's own compatriots or those of the enemy.
All that changed with Vietnam, the first of the 'television' wars, and the one that began the American preoccupation with body-bags and body-counts. Matters came to a head in Somalia 11 years ago when 'General' Aidid forced American peacekeepers to flee after the death of 18 American Rangers. (Remember the movie Black Hawk Down?)
Everything changed with the September 11 attacks. With thousands dying in the fall of the World Trade Center, it was as if the casualties had come before the United States formally entered the war. Even so, that does not mean America is reconciled to its soldiers being killed or captured. Already, the unwritten code of conduct has been breached with the father of a dead Marine blaming Bush before the television cameras. Nor did the events of September 11 mean that empathy for civilian deaths, even enemy civilians, has ceased altogether in the United States. (Britain, oddly, is both more phlegmatic about its own deaths and more emotional about those of the Iraqis!)
This goes a long way to explaining the restraint of the American generals. By the fifth day of the war, some 600,000 soldiers were in operation on both sides. Yet the invading army had suffered only 38 deaths -- and most were the result of 'friendly fire' accidents, including two British helicopters flying into each other. To put it another way, the total number of dead and injured was less than the toll consumed by car accidents on any given day in the United States.
Nevertheless, the media continues to focus on the few rather than the many, putting George W Bush and his generals under a microscope. As far as the toll on Iraq goes, this may be the first war where every attempt is made to protect the enemy capital's infrastructure.
Power plants are out of bounds for the bombers. Bridges are captured intact, never destroyed. And compared to 1991 there is a greater use of smart bombs, those guided by computers using the Global Positioning System, with an accuracy of 93 per cent. Even Iraq, after tremendous amount of bombing, talks of only 300 or so civilian casualties, dead and injured put together.
All this may change in the second week of the war, as the Americans approach Baghdad. Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard might use the civilian population as human shields. There could also be an increase in guerrilla activity against the coalition. If so, there will be a dramatic increase in the death-count, both American and Iraqi.
Bush will definitely succeed in his aim of a regime change in Iraq. But will Saddam use his ultimate weapon, the human shields, and take Bush with him?
T V R Shenoy