All this gore was good for one guy—a little colonel named Putin. He sent the Army back into Chechnya with better plans and supplies in 1999. They did much better this time around—wiped out the big rebel units in a few months, and took Grozny the smart way—by razing it to the ground from afar before sending in Russian soldiers. It made him so popular that Yeltsin stepped aside, and Putin is still just about the most popular leader since, well, Stalin.
But that just meant that the Chechens switched to guerrilla warfare, where air power and artillery are useless.
That’s exactly what happened to us in Iraq War 2. In the first stage of the war, we wiped out the Iraqi Army, using armor and air power. That left it up to the urban guerrillas. They took over, and they’ve been kicking our asses ever since.
So you Russians really are in a weirdly similar kind of mess as us. In some ways your situation looks better. For one thing, there aren’t that many Chechens left. There were about 1.3 million people living in Chechnya in 1991, but the population has since shrunk faster than a penis in icewater. First, the Chechens ethnically cleansed the ethnic Russian population, about 200,000 of them. Then, in two Chechen wars, the Russians killed about 200,000 Chechens, while most of the rest have run off to refugee camps or Moscow (where I hear the cops spend most of their time harassing them).
The UN’s best guess is that there are only about 300,000 people left in Chechnya today. That’s pretty damn close to a genocide, and yet it hasn’t resulted in victory, because there are still 300,000 people, and hundreds of thousands more dispersed, alive to take revenge. The Chechen rebels are betting that by taking the war to Russian civilians and killing as many Russian troops as they can, they’ll make the war unbearable for Russia over time.
That whole strategy, which is basic to guerrilla warfare, is looking less and less effective. It turns out that Russian and US public opinion isn’t nearly as sensitive to casualties as people thought.
I remember a few years ago, snotty military historians from other countries talked about "the Mogadishu rule," which meant that us Americans were too fragile to stand any casualties, since we ran from Somalia after losing 18 men in a streetfight. Well, last time I checked we’d lost over 1200 men in Iraq, and I don’t hear much grumbling. I remember columnists saying if US dead totaled more than 1000 by election day, Bush was finished. We had over 1100 KIA by Nov. 2, and he won easily.
Us Westerners aren’t the pussies the "experts" said we were. We can take it. Hell, if you ask me we kinda like it, having a war on TV when we get home from work. Some of that footage from Iraq is so cool to watch—do we have to pretend we’d rather listen to stories about handicapped kids or new downtown parking?
A quagmire—I looked it up—is just a swamp. And lots of animals love swamps, especially big ones. Elephants will walk miles to roll around in the mud. So maybe we’re swamp critters, comfortable in the quagmires. But if you’ve ever watched those nature documentaries, you know elephants are always getting stuck in their mudholes, sinking deeper and deeper till they’re hyena food.
Of the two quagmires, Iraq’s probably the nastier one. Size is part of it. Chechnya’s a little chunk of worthless scrub and mountain cliffs with no friends except the Ingush, whereas Iraq is a big country full of oil, with close ties to 500 million Arabs, not to mention 1 billion Muslims.
The scariest thing about Iraq is that we can’t just leave, the way we did in Nam. Vietnam just doesn’t matter that much—it’s off the trade routes, doesn’t have any oil. Iraq matters. Always did—the Assyrians and Babylonians and Hittites were fighting for it before Europe was even a rumor. Leaving Iraq now would be like trying to run from a nuclear explosion, the way Schwartzenegger does in that stupid ending to Predator.
If we leave, the Iranians and Iraqi Shiites take over. We end up with a Greater Khomeini-land stretching from Pakistan to Syria. Nuclear-armed, battle-ready. And convinced that Allah’s number one priority is punishing the Great Satan, us.
There are so many little ironies here, it’s not even funny. Like Israel. The Israelis were all for us invading Iraq; they thought they’d be more secure.
I wonder if they still think so. If we can’t handle Iraq—and that’s pretty clear by now—how the Hell are we going to deal with Iran?
We need to come up with some kind of counterweight that will keep the Shiites off balance. One simple way is creating an independent Kurdistan. That would keep the Iranians busy for the next hundred years or so, because Kurdistan would cover a lot of Western Iran as well as Northern Iraq. No way Iran would let the Kurds get away with taking that territory, and it would be our turn to sit back and enjoy the game while the Kurds and the Iranians bashed each other. The trouble is, Kurdistan also covers most of Eastern Turkey, and the Turks will go totally insane if we destabilize their borders. If there’s anybody I really do feel sorry for in this mess, it’s the Turks. They deserve better. They’ve been our only real ally, and we reward them by turning their neighborhood into Compton.
The Brits would do it, and not think twice about betraying their allies. They always were smarter and colder than us. But Bush? No way he’ll do something as smart and realistic as back the Kurds. The best bet is that it’s going to be more of the same for the next four years, a weird soundtrack of car bombs and press conferences. "Kaboom!" "Democracy!" "WhooOOOOM!" "Freedom!" MTV-style videos of some poor sucker getting his throat sawn in half while that skinny PR general in Baghdad talks about elections.
It’s attrition that will decide it. We’re betting they run out of suicide bombers before we run out of tame Iraqis. It’s hard to say; with the way our Iraqi "allies" are getting slaughtered, the supply has to be running out, but then you have to wonder just how many willing suicide bombers they have left. I mean, I can see becoming a suicide bomber. Hell yes; if I’d grown up in Iraq I’d probably volunteer. There can’t be a sweeter feeling than putting the pedal to the metal in a V8 stuffed with fertilizer bomb, heading downtown to blast your country’s enemies.
But I’d feel just a little doubt. Like, am I really going to get 64 virgins in Heaven, when I can’t even get the fat girls with acne to look at me down here? What if the virgins up there hate me just as much as the girls in my class did? Maybe I better park this thing somewhere quiet, let somebody else deal with it…leave the motor running and go get a falafel.
See though, the lesson of Chechnya and Iraq both is that people are a lot crazier and more comfortable with violence than we thought. So I’m betting that they’ll never run out of bombers and Jihadis, and we’ll never run out of GIs from rust-belt ghost towns. I think the party will just keep going, and going, and going—killing and killing and killing, like the Energizer bunny on PCP.
Maybe in four years America will get tired of Iraq, in time for a new president to pull out discreetly, like a date rapist saying goodbye. By that time, we’ll be in some very deep shit with the whole Islamic world. You might want to cancel that cruise down the Nile you had planned. And Europe by now is so full of Hajjis that even Paris is going to be a dangerous place for Americans. They’re getting uppity over there—a bunch of Moroccans just killed this Dutch director for badmouthing Allah. They left a note pinned to his chest with a dagger. They’re not shy these days. Baja is about as far as it’ll be safe for us to go.
When we do leave, get set for something big and nasty and religious, like your least-favorite relative. Right now we’re being like assistant coach for the Jihad, killing off all the Islamic guerrillas who are too dumb or too brave (too brave is a very bad thing for a guerrilla). The guerrillas we killed in Falluja were too brave. The smart ones left. So we’re weeding out the insurgents, making sure their best and brightest survive.
Four years from now these super-Jihadis will have risen to the top, and when we leave they’re going to grab power and start sliding toward the Mediterranean like a giant slug.
By that time, this war will have cost us so many trillions, and I do mean trillions, that we’re going to have trouble maintaining the infrastructure in Ohio, never mind Iraq. Whoever takes office in 2008 won’t have the option of putting more money down the Iraq toilet. We’ll be lucky to afford camera crews to video the Jihad, let alone stopping it. At least it’ll make good TV.
I’m not saying Iraq will bring America down. That’s too dramatic. Like I said, countries and tribes just don’t disappear any more. We’ll be in a big, long lull, a coma. Whether we come out of it or not will be luck. If things heat up somewhere else—and I’m still praying to Shiva and Allah for a big Indo-Pak nuke war—then maybe the US can float through and come out fine. If somebody jumps us quick, like you Russians should’ve done in 1975 if you wanted to take Western Europe ever, then we’re in big trouble.
Meanwhile, back in Chechnya, you Russians are in for the same weather prediction: partly bloody, with no change. You’re going to be fighting the Chechens forever. You know that. Even if you leave. You’ve driven them so crazy by now they’ll never let up, even if you get out. They already proved that after Yeltsin pulled out; they just followed you back into Russia, hacking and burning and kidnapping.
You’re in luck, though, because it’s not going to be as big or as expensive as our little Iraq adventure. With less than a half million people to draw from, they’ve got a limited supply of martyrs. And even though Russia has this birthrate lower than the Salton Sea, you’re big enough to absorb all the apartment-building and subway bombs they can throw at you. You soaked up the Wehrmacht, after all; you can soak up a little terrorism. There’ll be a good living for the mercenaries you send to Chechnya, and a promising career in martydom for young Chechens—and for the rest of you it won’t matter, unless your particular apartment building or subway car gets gexogon-bombed.
And at least you’re not trying to pretend you like the Chechens, or you’re only doing it for their own good. That means you’ll only be spending money on killing them, not killing them and then trying to turn them into Americans, dumping hundreds of billions on them to buy them off, like we are in Iraq. You won’t go bankrupt from Chechnya as soon as we will from Iraq.
So ha ha, you poor Russians, we win the Quagmire Bowl. Our Iraqi quag turns out to be bigger and suckier than your pitiful little Chechen mudhole.
But like I said, winning’s a tricky thing. This is one competition you’re better off losing.