FIRST, SOME STIPULATIONS: The war is not over yet. There is still much fighting to be done and many things could go wrong. Chemical weapons could still be used. More allied soldiers will die in fighting. There will be more civilian casualties. Yesterday's collapse of the regime in Baghdad was a decisive moment, but not the endpoint of the war itself. That said, the events of this week, including the uprising in Firdos Square, have settled definitively some of the arguments that have been going on in public circles.
One of the liberal memes that has been circulating for the last few weeks was the notion of how terrible the taking of Baghdad would be. As one Australian reader (gleefully) put it to me, the allies were in for no less than "STALINGRAD STALINGRAD STALINGRAD!!!!!!!!!!!!" Many other liberal readers wrote in expressing similar sentiments. They seem to have been mistaken.
Yet the far left appears, on the whole, to have already dismissed Firdos Square. Buzzflash.com (an extremist version of the Drudge Report) carried no fewer than five stories about Iraqi civilian deaths yesterday and mentioned Firdos only once, and tangentially at that, with the headline "Ah, Yes, Democracy. Iraqis Looting and Dancing in Baghdad." Buzzflash carried more stories about Haliburton and Enron than yesterday's Iraqi celebrations.
Michael Moore's war blog said yesterday, "Liberation comes, but don't believe the hype." Under the subject header The People of Iraq, he writes, "British tabloid offers to help the victims of war. Iraqis afraid American aid will have strings attached. Will Turkey step into the fray against the Kurds."
The liberal site Indymedia mentioned Firdos not at all on their front page, but on April 7 carried a feature headlined "Peace-Activists Enter Baghdad," which approvingly noted that more human shields were entering the city to protect Iraqi civilians. No mention of the banner being held up yesterday which read, "Go Home Human Shields."
WHILE THE AMERICAN LEFT mostly ignored the sight of Iraqis celebrating freedom, some people were actually unhappy about it. In a dispatch filed from Riyadh, Donna Abu-Nasr spoke with a number of Arabs who were upset by the liberation of Baghdad:
"Why did [Saddam] fall that way? Why so fast?" asked one tearful housewife. "He's a coward. Now I feel sorry for his people."
An Arab hotel receptionist didn't even feel sorry for the cheering Iraqis. "I spit on them," he said.
A Libyan teacher told Abu-Nasr that "the scenes reminded him of the collapse of the Soviet Union." But he didn't mean this in a good way: "Those who applauded the collapse of Lenin's statue for some Pepsi and hamburgers felt the hunger later on and regretted what they did," he said.
The Jerusalem Post carried a similar story about the Palestinian reaction.
"I'm stunned and appalled. I can't understand what is happening," one shopkeeper told reporter Khaled Abu Toameh. "This can't be true. Where are the suicide bombers? Where are the Fedayeen of Saddam? Where are the heroic Republican Guards?"
A taxi driver told Abu Toameh that he simply went home from work after hearing the news. "I just couldn't continue driving. It was very difficult for me and the passengers. I've never seen such solemn faces. It was as if they had lost dear ones."
IN THE ONGOING MATTER of foreign-press questions at the daily CENTCOM briefings, a plucky reporter from Le Monde had a great one at Monday's briefing:
Why did the coalition forces decide to kill "Chemical Ali" and not take him prisoner? I mean, we are told that U.K. soldiers who found the body. Was he armed? Could you explain?
But perhaps it's time to stop exempting American reporters. At the April 7 briefing Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter Kevin Diaz asked:
We have troops in Baghdad. It seems like we have the whole regime on the run. If ever there was a time that this regime would resort to weapons of mass destruction or chemical warfare, wouldn't it have happened by now? Since it hasn't happened, wouldn't it be reasonable for some people to conclude that they didn't have them or didn't use them?
Sure, it's not as overtly silly as the Al Jazeera correspondent asking for proof that the United States held Saddam International, or the Hong Kong reporter asking about the coalition's plans for retreat, but Diaz's question is quite preposterous nonetheless.
But the real prize this week goes to Greg Frost of Reuters, who, wrote on April 8, "Like Iraqis, Americans Once Used 'Irregulars.'"
"As U.S. and British authorities accuse Iraq of not fighting fairly," Frost writes, "some historians have noted wryly that British officers made the same complaints about American colonists in the late 18th century."
Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.