"Mow the Whole Place Down"

Senator Trent Lott (R-Miss) has finally flipped. His particular line is not military tactics, of course (no Vietnam for him), so we should not expect any flashing Napoleonic insights from this racist bigot. In fact his talent is that “he has worked with the Pentagon to advance Mississippi’s prowess in shipbuilding and weapons construction as well as the state’s strategic location for its numerous military installations” (according to his highly selective biography : nothing there about having to relinquish the majority leadership in the Senate because of his revelation of support for racial segregation).

His insights into the wider sphere of military affairs include the gem on his website that “To fight terrorists, we must improve our naval capacity and our ability to project power to their turf before they get to ours. As America faces new threats that more than ever require our naval mobility, it’s time we stopped living off shipbuilding investments made during the 1980s, and begin charting a course to ensure our country remains the world’s largest most formidable maritime power.” That’s interesting, because the last time terrorists struck the Navy it was with an explosive rubber boat powered by an outboard engine. It is difficult to see how expanding naval capacity will deter rubber boats, and even more difficult to determine which terrorists have navies.

“Project power to their turf” is of course a valid strategic principle, even if a mixed metaphor in the maritime sense. But how does a navy project power to the turf of terrorists? Bush told the UN General Assembly in September last year that al Qaeda terrorists had fled Afghanistan and moved to Iraq. They hadn’t, then, of course, but they are there now, and in growing numbers it seems. So how does Lott intend to “project power to their turf” by building more ships in Mississippi?

Perhaps this is unfair. It’s taking on a dumb cluck or a sitting duck. But Lott keeps on bobbing up like the little rubber ducky he is, and begs us to take aim and blast him out of the murky waters in which he paddles. His most recent idiocy concerns Iraq. Now hold on to your hats, everyone, because this is what he said:

“Honestly it’s a little tougher that I thought it was going to be [in Iraq]. If we have to, we just mow the whole place down, see what happens. You’re dealing with insane suicide bombers who are killing our people and we need to be very aggressive in taking them out.” (http://www.thehill.com/)

“Mow the whole place down” is an interesting military concept, like the brain dead “bring ’em on” of George Bush. But perhaps the Lott policy is worth examining. After all, it seems to be what is happening, because I actually gagged when I read an account of a US army raid in Iraq in which “House after house meets the same fate. Some homes only have women in them; they, too, are ransacked, closets broken, mattresses overturned, clothes thrown out of drawers . . . . When a house is ‘complete’, or at the Home Run stage (stages are divided into 1st, 2nd, 3rd, Home Run and Grand Slam, meaning ready to move on), soldiers relax and joke, breaking their own tension and ignoring the trembling and shocked women and children crouched together on the lawns behind them.” (See the full account in the Asia Times.)

This is grim. Here am I, a retired and wizened soldier who has seen warfare at several levels, an old campaigner who you would think would be at the right hand of Genghis Khan or Trent Lott and applauding victory over all sorts of wogs, gooks, slopes or whatever ; yet I despair about what is going on in the name of ‘freedom’ in Iraq. Because American soldiers are behaving barbarically and without regard to human rights, Geneva Conventions, or just plain decency.

I never thought American soldiers would permit this, for example, in a recent raid on a village:

“Prisoners with duct tape on their eyes and their hands cuffed behind them with plastic “zip ties” [handcuffs] sit in the back of the truck for hours without water. They move their heads toward sounds, disoriented and frightened, trying to understand what is happening around them. Any time a prisoner moves or twitches a soldier bellows at him angrily and curses.”

What on earth has happened to decent American boys?

“By daylight the whole town can see a large truck full of prisoners. Two men walking to work with their breakfast in a basket are stopped at gunpoint, ordered to the ground, cuffed and told to “shut the fuck up” as their basket’s contents are tossed out and they are questioned about the location of a suspect.”

What has happened to decent American boys? How could a normal American youngster willfully destroy someone’s breakfast? Is it army policy for American soldiers to bellow “Shut the fuck up” at unarmed civilians on their way to work who are unfortunate enough to be within sight of an American squad and are therefore treated as the worst of enemies? The Iraqis don’t understand “shut the fuck up”, of course. All they understand is that they were walking peacefully to work with their breakfast in a basket and were threatened, humiliated, physically abused, made captive and bellowed at by the invaders of their country.

After this particular sweep, in which ‘Apache Troop’ was searching for alleged terrorists, Nir Rosen of the Asia Times reported “From the list of 34 names [of suspects], Apache brings in about 16 positively identified men, along with another 54 men who were neighbors, relatives or just happened to be around. By 0830, Apache is done, and starts driving back to base. As the main element departs, the psychological-operations vehicle blasts AC/DC rock music through neighborhood streets. ‘It’s good for morale after such a long mission,’ Captain Brown says.”

Does not this oaf realise he has just made hundreds more enemies for his country? Not only by the jackboot-style raid, the conduct of which would have been well regarded by the Waffen SS, but by his immature gesture of playing triumphal mega-decibel foreign rock music to mark his victory over nothing. The entire town hates Americans. Its citizens may or may not have been supportive of Saddam Hussein or the occupying power before the raid, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out who they detest now.

Iraqi prisoners of the Occupying Power have no rights of any sort. The Geneva Conventions are irrelevant, so far as the US military is concerned. Let me emphasize this. The Geneva Conventions regarding treatment of prisoners of war and civilians (protected persons, as the Convention defines them) might as well not exist. No Iraqi citizens have any rights once they fall into the hands of the conquerors. Indeed no Iraqi citizens have any rights if they go anywhere near US soldiers. Alex Berenson of the New York Times reported October 28 that (<http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/29/international/middleeast /29IRAQ.html?pagewan>) “American soldiers killed six civilians just west of this city on Monday after a roadside bomb exploded near their convoy, according to town officials and witnesses. The soldiers, who were on the main road to Falluja when the bomb exploded, fired on a minivan heading in the opposite direction on a different road more than 100 yards away, witnesses said.

“An American convoy of about eight vehicles was traveling east toward Falluja, on a road where United States patrols are often attacked. Two bombs planted in the center median exploded, damaging one of the vehicles but not stopping the convoy’s progress, witnesses said. Still heading east, the convoy began to fire, shooting at several vehicles heading southwest, away from the patrol, on a nearby road, said Amir Ahmed Saleh, a passenger in a vehicle on that road. The convoy’s targets included a minivan carrying employees of Iraq’s state oil company, Mr. Saleh said. . . . Four people in the minivan died, and two were severely wounded . . . He showed what he said were photographs of the shattered van that he had taken immediately after the incident. The photographs show a gruesome scene. Pieces of bodies cover the van’s seats, sharing space with a set of brown prayer beads. A headless, legless torso lies on the ground beside the van. There was no independent means of confirming that the van pictured was the one involved in the incident . . .

“Colonel Khamis, the police chief, said of the American forces: “When they’re subjected to attack, they start shooting indiscriminately. The minibus was heading to Ramadi – they didn’t have any link with the issue.” Mr. Badewi [the mayor] said that he had pleaded with American commanders to restrain their troops, but that they had refused. “We’ve talked about this reaction, and so many people and clerics have talked to them,” he said. “They say, `This is our way’.” The political allegiance of the two Iraqi officials was not clear, but they seemed generally moderate in their view of the American occupation.”

Alex Berenson is an accurate reporter. He tells it like it is. Which is that some US occupation troops are intent on mowing the whole place down. Trent Lott would be proud of them. The important question is : does nobody in the administration (Washington or Baghdad) realise the immense harm being done to what Bush keeps telling us he wants to achieve in Iraq? Reports of atrocities such as this are becoming more and more common, and cannot be dismissed as propaganda. After every incident of brutality there are scores, perhaps hundreds more Iraqis alienated from the cause of democracy.

There is no point whatever in saying US troops are under stress and claiming that their behavior is only what is to be expected. First, soldiers are supposed to be able to take stress. Second, if they haven’t been trained to adapt to and counter urban guerrilla warfare there is something badly wrong with the entire training system. Third, reacting to pressure by trashing houses and terrifying women and kids is playing right into the hands of the guerrillas. Fourth, the entire world is watching what is going on and much of it is only too eager to conclude that US occupation troops are behaving as barbaric conquerors.

There may well be soldiers who treat suspects and captives with dignity, but reports of callous savagery and random killings are too many to ignore. It may be too late to retrieve the situation, such has been the damage done to the image of the United States. If nothing is done to improve matters, such as ordering soldiers to stop behaving like barbarians, then there will be more and more troops needed in Iraq to keep down an increasingly rebellious population. There is no point, either, in blaming the foreign hand for attacks on occupying troops. There may be foreigners involved, but they are going to be tolerated and even regarded as saviours by citizens who are in the process of being thoroughly estranged and antagonised by other foreigners who treat them appallingly. For every school that is adopted and fostered by a US unit, there is a school of hatred created by another.

The Lotts of this world are many and stupid. If they have their way, Iraq is doomed.

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes about defense issues for CounterPunch, the Nation (Pakistan), the Daily Times of Pakistan and other international publications. His writings are collected on his website: www.briancloughley.com.

He can be reached at: beecluff@aol.com


Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.