What if the tables were turned?

“What would the United States look like if it were in Iraq’s current situation?” That’s the question University of Michigan history Prof. Juan Cole asks on his Web site before proceeding to try to answer it. The U.S. has 11 times as many people as Iraq, so Cole took Iraq war statistics from a week in mid-September 2004 and multiplied them by 11, coming up with the following “what ifs”:

• “What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun spray and aerial bombardments in just one week?” (Violence killed 300 Iraqis that week, the equivalent, proportionally, of 3,300 Americans—more than died in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.)

• “What if those deaths occurred all over the country, mostly in the capital of Washington, but also in Boston, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and San Francisco?”

• “What if the grounds of the White House and the government buildings near the [Capitol] Mall were constantly taking mortar fire and those inside were fearful of stepping outside?”

• What if all major-media reporters were trapped in five-star hotels in Washington and New York, unable to move more than a few blocks?

• “What if there were private armies of 275,000 men … hiding out in dangerous areas of cities all over the U.S.? What if they so completely controlled a half-dozen large cities that police and federal troops could not enter? (The number of armed insurgents in Iraq is estimated at 25,000.)

• “What if all the cities in the U.S. were racked by crime, with thousands of murders, kidnappings, burglaries and carjackings?”

• What if the Air Force routinely bombed a half-dozen American cities, attempting to target “safe houses” of “criminal gangs” but inevitably killing lots of children and other innocents?

• What if electricity service was intermittent, the Alaska pipeline was bombed and disabled monthly, there was no commercial air traffic, many roads were highly dangerous, and unemployment hovered at 40 percent?

What if?