A U.S. Marine very briefly put an American flag over the head of a Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad on Wednesday, and to hear some of the war critics talk about it, you would think this fact more important than the fact that an Iraqi crowd cheered the fall of that statue as a symbol of the fall of their hated oppressor.
To these critics, the flag incident was a signal of American arrogance and imperial intent, or at least an act insensitive to the feelings of vast numbers of Arabs. But while putting it up may have been a mistake, it was a trivial one, and a mistake rectified in a flash.
The flag came down quickly, an Iraqi flag then taking its place. All that was signaled was the patriotic enthusiasm of a few Marines who had, after all, been risking their lives in the liberation of the Iraqi people. Some of those people were now celebrating, and a few were themselves waving small American flags.
The worst of the critics, expecting no show of Iraqi gratitude and not quite sure what to say about it, are rushing to other subjects, such as the flag incident — and the looting. The United States must restore order, they say, and the United States will, but not in a heavy-handed manner, and not acting by itself. So promised an officer at a press briefing, explaining that Americans would work with Iraqi citizens on the matter. Meantime, he said, the looting was dying down, and anyone watching instances of it on TV can see it seems less threatening than what university students sometimes do in American cities when their teams win or lose a ballgame.
The critics also say — quite rightly — that the military must move expeditiously to bring water to the thirsty, food to the hungry and medical care to the sick and injured. The military understands as much, of course. It is a gross misreading of administration purposes to suppose that steps will not be taken as fast as practicable. Given the competence the U.S. military has demonstrated in everything it has faced to date in Iraq, it seems a sure-fire bet it will do as good a job as circumstances allow in providing humanitarian aid.
Despite the relative ease with which U.S. forces took Baghdad, more fighting remains. Marines such as the one with the flag remain in danger from enemy fighters and suicidal terrorists. But the United States will win this war, and contrary to the worries of some critics, will give the country to Iraqis to run and let them keep their oil profits. These critics will someday run out of issues, but do not expect them to shut up.