The article below is the work of Juan Cole, professor of modern Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. It appeared in The Daily Star newspaper in Beirut, and is reproduced here with Prof. Cole's permission.
U.S. President George W. Bush said last week that the Iraqis were refuting the pessimists, and he implied that things were improving in that country. What would the United States look like if it were in Iraq's current situation? The population of the U.S. is more than 11 times that of Iraq's, so a lot of statistics would have to be multiplied by that number.
Violence killed 300 Iraqis last week, the equivalent, proportionately, of 3,300 Americans. What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun shootings and aerial bombardments in just one week? That is a number greater than the deaths on Sept. 11, 2001. And what if those deaths occurred all over the country, mostly in Washington, the capital, but also in Boston, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and San Francisco?
What if the grounds of the White House and the government buildings near the Mall were constantly taking mortar fire and those inside were fearful of stepping outside? What if all the reporters for the major television and print media were trapped in five-star hotels in Washington and New York, unable to move more than a few blocks safely and dependent on stringers to know what was happening in Oklahoma City and St. Louis? What if the only time they ventured into the Midwest was if they could be embedded in army or National Guard units?
There are estimated to be about 25,000 insurgents in Iraq engaged in concerted acts of violence. What if there were private armies of 275,000 men - armed with machine guns, assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and mortar launchers, hiding out in dangerous areas of cities all over the U.S.? What if these militias so completely controlled Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Denver and Omaha that local police and federal troops could not go into those cities? What if, during the last year, the secretary of state (Aqila Hashimi in Iraq), the president (Ezzedine Salim) and the attorney general (Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim) had all been assassinated?
What if all the cities in the U.S. were racked by crime, with thousands of murders, kidnappings, burglaries and carjackings? What if the air force routinely bombed Billings, Montana; Flint, Michigan; South Central Los Angeles; Philadelphia and other areas, attempting to target "safe houses" of "criminal gangs" but inevitably killing many children and little old ladies?
What if, from time to time, the army besieged Virginia Beach, killing hundreds of armed members of the Christian Soldiers? What if entire platoons of the Christian Soldiers militia holed up in Arlington National Cemetery were bombarded by American warplanes on a daily basis, destroying thousands of graves and even pulverizing the Vietnam veterans' memorial over on the Mall? What if there were no commercial flights in the country? What if many roads were highly dangerous, especially the interstates from Richmond, Virginia to Washington and up to Boston? If you went anywhere along that more than 800-kilometer stretch of highway, you would risk being carjacked or kidnapped or having your car sprayed with gunfire.
What if no American had electricity for more than 10 hours a day, and often had to make do with less? What if it went off at unpredictable times, causing factories to halt and air-conditioning to fail in the middle of the summer in Houston and Miami? What if the Alaska pipeline were bombed and disabled monthly?
What if unemployment hovered at about 40 percent? What if militia veterans who had been at places like Ruby Ridge and Oklahoma City on the day of the bombing were brought in to run the government on the theory that you need tough guys in these times of crisis?
What if municipal elections were canceled and cliques close to the new "president" were quietly installed in the statehouses as "governors"? What if several of these governors were assassinated soon after taking office or resigned when insurgents took their children hostage?
What if the leader of the EU maintained that U.S. citizens were, under these conditions, refuting pessimism and assured them that freedom and democracy were just around the corner?