I never thought we could see a new form of evil. After the gas chambers of the Holocaust, the tens of millions murdered in the Gulag, the forced starvation in the Ukraine, the hideous medical experiments on people by the Germans and the Japanese in World War II, the torture chambers in all police states, I had actually believed that no new forms of evil existed.
I was wrong.
Of course, for sheer cruelty, one cannot outdo the Nazis; no depiction of hell ever matched the reality of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. But while Islamists and Baathists in Iraq have not devised new forms of torture — there probably are no new ways left — they have devised a new form of evil: murdering, maiming and torturing as many innocents among their own people as possible.
I do not know of an analogous form of evil. When the Allies conquered Nazi Germany, disaffected Nazis did not go around murdering and cutting off the heads of fellow Germans in order to make the Allies leave. Nor did disaffected Japanese blow up Japanese students so as to make the American occupation of Japan untenable.
Here is the latest example of this new form of evil as reported by the Associated Press: “Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero, deputy director for regional operations on the Joint Staff, said . . . the vehicle used in the attack [on Iraqi civilians] was waved through a U.S. military checkpoint because two children were visible in the back seat. He said this was the first reported use of children in a car bombing in Baghdad. ‘Children in the back seat lowered suspicion, (so) we let it move through, they parked the vehicle, the adults run out and detonate it with the children in the back,’ Barbero told reporters in Washington.”
These same “insurgents” routinely blow up children who line up to receive candy from U.S. troops. Likewise, college students are targeted for death, as are men lining up to apply for civilian jobs, men and women attending mosques, physicians in hospitals, and so on. The more innocent the Iraqi, the more likely he or she is to be targeted for murder.
I submit that there was no way to anticipate this. And no one did. This includes all those who predicted a civil war in Iraq between Shiites and Sunnis. I include myself among those who predicted savagery in Iraq. On a number of occasions prior to our invasion of Iraq, I recounted to my radio listeners this chilling story:
As a young man, in 1974, I was riding on a bus traveling from Beirut to Damascus. The man I sat next to was an English-speaking Iraqi whom I asked at one point in our conversation, “Can you describe your nation in a sentence?” “No problem,” he immediately answered. “We Iraqis are the most barbaric people in the world.”
I obviously never forgot that man’s words, and therefore anticipated great cruelties in Iraq. But neither I nor anyone who predicted a civil war had so much as a premonition of this unprecedented mass murder of the men, women and children among one’s own people as a military tactic to defeat an external enemy.
It is, therefore, unfair to blame the Bush administration for not anticipating such a determined “insurgency.” Without the mass murder of fellow Iraqis, there would hardly be any “insurgency.” The combination of suicide terrorists and a theology of death has created an unprecedented form of “resistance” to an occupier: “We will murder as many men, women and children as we can until you leave.” Nor is this a matter of Sunnis murdering Shiites and vice versa: college students, women shopping at a Baghdad market and hospital workers all belong to both groups. Truck bombs cannot distinguish among tribes or religious affiliations.
If America had to fight an insurgency directed solely against us and coalition forces — even including suicide bombers — we would surely have succeeded. No one, right, left or center, could imagine a group of people so evil, so devoid of the most elementary and universal concepts of morality, that they would target their own people, especially the most vulnerable, for murder.
That is why we have not yet prevailed in Iraq. Even without all the mistakes made by the Bush administration — and what political or military leadership has not made many errors in prosecuting a war? — it could not have foreseen this new form of evil we are witnessing in Iraq.
That is why we have not won.
There are respectable arguments to be made against America’s initially going into Iraq. But intellectually honest opponents of the war have to acknowledge that no one could anticipate an “insurgency” that included people leaving children in a car and then blowing them up.