Everyone knows that Obama is about to test his surge strategy in the Afghan city of Marja, but how many see the real story?
The attack on Marja is the fundamental test to date of American integrity under Obama. Since the cosy days of the Cold War, the world has experienced a stunning series of intentional war crimes planned and executed by governments: Grozniy, Fallujah, Gaza. A few Pakistani cities should probably be added to that list, but since the Pakistani Army has been very effective at hiding what has been happening from Swat to Bajaur, I hesitate to name one. Will Marja become the next, or will Obama's military demonstrate to the surprise of all that it truly is the friend of the Afghan people?
First of all, watch for news. If a battle occurs "in private," in the absence of independent, on-the-scene reports by independent reporters, the history of the past decade would teach us to anticipate the worst.
Second, watch for follow-up. In Gaza, for example, despite the brave and generous efforts of many around the world, Israel has very effectively prevented follow-up: no reconstruction of civilian homes. Exactly what the U.S. conqueror did after destroying Fallujah would be worth knowing. Israel of course punished the Gaza population on purpose to send a clear message that its enemies would have to choose between terrorism and submission; was the U.S. in Fallujah playing the same game?
When I described Gaza last year as a laboratory for experimenting with ways to repress civilian populations, not a single person protested to me that my hypothesis was untrue. At the time, I was focused on Gaza and was viewing it as the center of things, but perhaps a more accurate view would have been to say Gaza was the latest in a string of "urban laboratories," where a city would intentionally be destroyed. The residents of Baghdad (1258), Dresden, or Hiroshima would understand and perhaps view those of us who grew up in the post-WWII era with our belief in human progress and international law as hopelessly naive.
It is not clear how new cultural traits develop. What persuaded so many Muslims that terrorism was OK? What persuaded so many Western governments that state terrorism was OK? Did Israel develop this modern barbarism and teach the American neo-cons or did Israel watch the Russians in Chechnya and the Americans in Fallujah and think, "Wow. They got away with it!" Evil spreads easily.
So, Marja is America's test. Will America prove to be just another barbarian conqueror or will it show that it does indeed qualify, as it so desires,to lead the world?