Words, Pictures, and Reality
Somewhere along the trip, the convoy made a wrong turn onto a road that would prove to be a dead end. As the convoy went along, people started throwing stones at the vehicles. The first frame at left shows a single Iraqi hurling stone at the convoy. Shortly thereafter, what at first appeared to be little more than potshots from AK-47s started hitting the trucks. Wheeler's truck got hit. The second frame at left shows his front windshield with a bullet hole. Whether or not he, himself, was hit during this first volley of gunfire is unclear, but Wheeler can be heard on the video yelling, "God damn!" perhaps from the sheer shock of having bullets come that close to ending his life right there and then.
The convoy came to the dead end in the road, and everyone turned around to backtrack. Returning back up the same road they had just gone down, they encountered not stone throwers or a couple of singleton shooters, but instead what the CNN narrator describes as an "ambush." Bullets and rocket propelled grenades started pouring in at the civilian and military vehicles. According to Wheeler, the military escort vehicles started to speed away, leaving the civilian truckers completely undefended. In the first frame at left, one of the armored vehicles is pulling around Wheeler's truck and leaving the scene, although a military spokesperson disputed that characterization, saying that the vehicle was instead moving to a position away from the "kill zone." Meanwhile, Wheeler was yelling into his two-way radio, "I'm fixin' t' git killed, goddammit!" A rocket propelled grenade had slammed into his truck and disabled it. RPGs and small arms fire were also crippling the other civilian trucks. The second frame at left shows the view from Wheeler's cab of one of the other civilian trucks from the convoy now on its side. Wheeler announced that he had just watched the Iraqi attackers kill one of the truckers up in front of him.
Without the military vehicles to keep them at bay, the attackers had their way with the drivers. The frame at left is from a video taken by a spy plane that was overhead. The men on the ground are Iraqis who have dragged one of the truckers from his cab and are in the process of stripping him naked and stoning him to death.
Mr. Wheeler was rescued 40 minutes later by a Blackhawk helicopter. A subsequent military inquiry into the incident found no fault in the way the soldiers dealt with the situation. In fact, one of the soldiers in the incident was recommended for commendation. The inquiry concluded that the troops' response to the attack was proper: leave the zone of fire and form a defense line from which they could then shoot back into the original area of confrontation.
In his brief statements aired on CNN, Mr. Wheeler was clearly and rather understandably unhappy with what had happened: three of the five civilian drivers had been killed, and he had been left with two AK-47 slugs in his arm to cower in the cab of his wrecked truck for almost three-quarters of an hour.
While the portrayal of the incident by CNN might seem to indicate that the soldiers had acted improperly, it is the report, itself, that gives such an impression, and it does so through a use of words that alters the perception of both what happened to Mr. Wheeler and, much more broadly, what is happening in Iraq.
However, before moving to generalizations, with respect to the incident described above, soldiers do not as a rule simply leave a firefight. Unless panic has set insomething not evident in that videosoldiers stay or redeploy based upon a quick situational assessment. There had to have been a good reason for forming that perimeter"line of defense outside the kill zone," as the military characterized itand the most likely reason is that they had come under the kind of fire that is not going to be suppressed by a volley or two of bullets from a couple of M-16s, M-60s, and other, similar weaponry in direct-fire exchange. The inquiry noted that more than 500 rounds were ultimately used to suppress the enemy fire.
The soldiers obviouslyand, most probably, correctlydetermined that they and their military hardware were at severe risk. Regardless of whether or not five civilian contractors' lives were at stake, a discretionary response that has the potential to wipe out the military personnel in the convoy, disable their vehicles, and ultimately lead to the weaponry on those vehicles falling into enemy hands is not to be chosen if other options are readily available. Moving away from the immediate scene and then firing back into the zone of original confrontation considerably reduces the risk of military casualties and the danger that military hardware will be destroyed and its weaponry transferred to those who could subsequently use its lethality on other American soldiers.
This does not mean, of course, that no concern should be paid to Mr. Wheeler's dismay at how he was treated or how his fellow civilians involved in the incident died. It is far too easy and inhumane to dismiss his anger because he's an employee of Halliburton or because he's over there of his own free will. Nobody deserves to die the way that trucker who was stripped and stoned did; and nobody deserves to sit in a vehicle while soldiers who were there specifically for the purpose of protecting him just leave the scene without so much as an explanation of what they're doing or what he should do.
In the end, of course, 500 rounds of various destructive calibers were most likely sufficient to turn at least some of those savages masquerading as "freedom fighters" into jig-meat puzzles that were pretty tricky to re-assemble for proper burial by bereaved survivors. Allowing for a fairly brutish, paleo-conservative moment, if the attackers pick off unarmed civilian trucks as expressions of their desire for freedom, then they get to risk surprisingly swift death in the process. That is, perhaps unfortunately, how the unapologetic calculus of military violence works. Once we're out of Iraq, we can return to some softer, fantasized belief about the nature and depravity of humanity in conflict.
Here's the core problem with the whole story, though: just a few words of great importance were replaced with words of lesser significance, and such misuse of words creates a persistently deflected understanding of specific incidents and a continuing falsehood about what is happening in Iraq.
Ambush. CNN used that word both in the text overlay for the story and in the narrative, itself. What happened on that dead-end road was no "ambush," which is a pre-planned tactical set-up established with foreknowledge or prediction of a place the opponents will be. That convoy was on that road by accident, so there was no way the attack could have been an ambush in the normal sense of that word.
There is no reason whatsoever to imagine that someone got a whole group of Iraqis together and said, "Let's all hide on a dead-end road, and sooner or later maybe a big convoy of military vehicles guarding some lumbering civilian trucks will accidentally make a wrong turn and end up in our clutches." That's just plain nonsense; but what really did happen on that road leads to the second incorrect word used both in that CNN story as well as all throughout the mainstream and alternative media.
Insurgents. The very word conveys a sense of disaggregation, of ill-defined internal structure, of provisionalism and detachment from a larger socio-political entity. Think carefully about what happened on that road: after what appeared to be some potshots, seemingly out of nowhere appeared a band of enemy fighters with enough firepower to drive a well-armored, fiercely armed slate of American soldiers to choose a military response that involved an almost inevitable loss of American civilians' lives.
Those weren't "insurgents"; that was a squad, and I mean that in the same way I would describe a type of contingent of soldiers in a regular military force. As apparently savage as they were, as apparently impromptu as the battle appeared to be, that was an organized unit with not just hard-core firepower, but organization. When a road in the middle of nowhere has the potential for that kind of incident, the enemy is not some diffuse, thinly spread bunch of thugs. We are not fighting an "insurgency"; we're fighting a military entity that by any honest assessment would be described as an army. Internally fractious and fratricidal as that army might be, what happened on that dead-end road is evidence of a military entity so deep, so seasoned, so dangerous that it can attack a convoy no one was expecting to be where it was, and it can attack with such ferocityor at least it has the American soldiers convinced that it could do sothat those soldiers pull out of the immediate fire zone and write off the people, vehicles, and materials in transport that were the entire reason for the convoy in the first place.
That's the work of an enemy that has attained the rightful status of an army, and whether or not the Pentagon is using that word or even contemplating its use in describing who's killing our soldiers in Iraq, we are now (and probably have been for a while) engaging the enemy as the opposing military force as it really is: a real, live, lethally effective army, one that is not just kicking our asses, but doing so without the benefit of air power, mechanized infantry, centralized command and control, or even uniforms.
And that leads to the last and most important word, one that is used from time to time but not fully understood for what it means.
War. The United States is not in a difficult, expensive, unsustainable "occupation" of Iraq; we are, instead, in a wara real, live, full-time war, one that is much more classic than it is unusual, despite the language of obfuscation that favors terms like "asymmetric," "improvised," "anti-government insurgents," "militias," and even "unlawful enemy combatants" to make people believe that the enemy is not the self-legitimized, mature force it really is.
That's why what we're doing over there has gotten so expensive; that's why it has generated so many lies by the ones who started it; that's why it is so difficult to get any decent agreement on exactly what to do. As offensive as it might be to progressives who want us to simply leave in four months, six months, or whatever, this is no longer, and probably has not been for a long time, merely some violent version of trying to wrest control of the channel changer from the idiot who put a bad show on.
Far worse is the fact that various factions of this enemy that has become a military entityan "army" in my lexiconare getting funding from sovereign and other entities. The Sunnis are being funded by Saudi Arabia, by Saddam Hussein's family in exile, and by others; the Shi'ites are getting money and other support from Iran, Syria, and quite possibly Russia and China; the Kurds are getting support from Israel and others. We, in fact, are the only ones stupid enough not to be fighting this war by proxy: we're using our own citizens to prosecute what we cannot bring ourselves to call a war.
The best we can do right now is argue about the term "civil war," as if that has anything whatsoever to do with our current military situation in Iraq. From the perspective of the United States, whether or not Iraqis are killing each other is completely irrelevant. The fact that they're killing us is what matters, and that puts the term "civil war" in the category of obfuscating language. We should be talking about war, regional war, and even the beginnings of a low-level global war.
Yes, "global war," and not that worthless "Global War on Terror" spanning the planet, but rather "global war" right there in Iraq, with everybody and his uncle throwing money into what the American and British neo-conservatives, along with their backers in other countries, set up as a high-stakes battle for control of the massive oil fields that will fuel the economic engines of most nations for the better part of this new century.
Wars have winners, and they have losers. Right now, we're losing, and it's because we're fighting an army that has proven to be more than our match in no small part because our political leaders, as well as a fair number of their sycophants in the Pentagon, have yet to face the fact that the diffuse, ideologically pure, well-orchestrated "Global War on Terror" has utterly frustrated any hope of dealing with the very real, terribly dirty, horrifically violent, pretty much garden-variety war we've gotten ourselves into thanks to the Bush Administration, its Republican allies in Congress, and their spineless Democratic colleagues.
We started it; but like most wars, it will end of its own accord once there is a clear winner and an unfortunately large number of losers. Adding twenty to thirty thousand more troops might work if this were some minor problem with an otherwise smooth occupation that had clear milestones on a transitional course out. Adding twenty to thirty thousand troops to a war will have no probability whatsoever of altering the outcome. We'll just get some of them killed, and we'll be escalating the war.
The only good thing about that would be the possibility that the American people and maybe even the media would finally be forced to stop using the wrong words to describe the mess we're in. The longer we keep lying to ourselves about what, exactly, this thing is we're doing over there in Iraq, the more likely we are to lose, and the more catastrophic that loss is going to be.
As the situation now stands, the catastrophe is going to be large. That's what wars do to the losers.
The Dark Wraith has spoken.