Wars are always full of surprises. As we get set to go to war with Iraq, maybe we should think about some likely and some unlikely surprises.
Don't be surprised if President Bush and his advisors are not moved by dissent, protests, demonstrations or any strong shows of public opinion against the war. It would be surprising if they were moved. People in power tend to believe that their will represents the popular will, while opposition means lack of understanding or lack of patriotism.
During the Vietnam War public opinion turned massively against the war during Lyndon Johnson's second term. The protests persuaded LBJ not to run again, but they failed to reach Richard Nixon, who presided over the war for several more years. In a mass democracy like ours, the voice of the people proposes, but the man in power disposes, at least until the next election. Remember too that many Americans support Bush on Iraq, and more will support him when shooting starts, at least for a time.
Don't be surprised if Congress gives heavy support to the war at the outset, but leaps upon the Bush team if things go wrong - that is, if surprises happen. The Founding Fathers (wiser and also smarter than present-day politicians, it seems) understood that the counterweight to a powerful presidency was not public opinion but a powerful Congress holding the purse strings. But in this television-and-terror era, Congress surrendered its war-calling prerogative when Bush first squared off against Iraq. So we can't be surprised when battle begins if Congress salutes and falls in line. At least for a time.
Don't be surprised if with help from Britain and "the new Europe" (meaning ex-communist Europe) - and with immense U.S. pressure and outright bribery - we cobble together at the United Nations something we can call an alliance. But don't be surprised either if this "alliance" is held in disdain by European and world opinion - particularly by Muslim opinion - and considered by many a cover for what they will frankly call American imperialism.
Don't be surprised if terrorism multiplies enormously when war starts up. In the eyes of the terrorists, the foe to be hurt by every means is the all-powerful United States, and more specifically the ongoing expansion of American power.
The imposing of a Pax Americana on Arab soil is a particular fear that calls forth terrorism, so it won't be surprising if a massive U.S. invasion of the Middle East calls forth fresh and cruel resistance. And since the resisters cannot fight us with air forces or navies or armies, let's not be surprised if they fight us with terror.
Also don't be surprised if new and terrible things happen in Palestine. Would it be unexpected if a Western-led invasion of Iraq led the Arab Palestinians to turn to fresh terror – meaning, alas, mostly suicide bombings? And would anyone be surprised if this heightened conflict poisoned the whole region?
And don't be surprised if Iraq under the strain of invasion tends to fall apart. Iraq is three countries at least, Kurds and Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims: Who could be surprised if imperialists of various stripes used the war to configure Iraq in new and interesting ways?
Don't be surprised if war makes bad things happen to the world economy. We Americans are absurdly dependent on foreign oil. Remembering the flaming oil fields of Kuwait a decade ago, should we be surprised if unhappy things happened to oil and to the economy as part of a war?
Above all, we mustn't be surprised if there are some military surprises. We are told that we are now nearly all-powerful and that our capable military will make short work of Iraq. Perhaps. But would you be surprised if that forecast turned out to be optimistic?
Would you be surprised if, as a result of the war, terror became more widespread and the Middle East became less stable and the world became less like the world we want to live in?
It is a good thing to be ready for some surprises.