Thursday, April 12, 2007

Iraq - A Place of Ambivalence

I commend to your attention an absolutely fascinating piece on Iraq by reporter Trish Durkin in the Huffington Post,of all places, who was based in Baghdad through most of 2003 and 2004 and wrote about the war firsthand for publications including the New York Observer, the Atlantic Monthly, the National Journal, and Rolling Stone.

"I know I should be passionately following the showdown between Congress and the president over legislation tying the funding of American troops in Iraq to a timetable for the troops' withdrawal from Iraq. Honestly, though, I find it hard to follow it at all. Showdowns are all about certainty, and for me, Iraq has always been a place of ambivalence.

I lived in Baghdad from April 2003 through September 2004, when I left without, of course, really leaving. Even if it weren't for the endless reels of bad news, I would have reels of memory on constant re-play in my mind.

I remember Riyadh, a bright and supremely idealistic young Shi'ite who had signed on as a translator for the U.S. Army but who, on his days off, used to take me around -- in ordinary, randomly hailed share-ride vans and taxis, if you can imagine it now - to markets and mosques and people's houses, just to scrounge around for stories...until, one morning on his way to work, Riyadh was shot to death." {..}

Whatever you think of the rest of this post, please do not write in to impress upon me the horrors that have descended upon innocent Iraqis since the American-led invasion. I really feel that I know.

I know other things too, though. Maybe it's just the contrarian in me, but it is these other things that I feel the need to stress, especially to those who are now reveling in their rightness about the war. Those who opposed the war seem to feel that they are the perfect opposite of those who sold the war - and of course, in the important sense of the invade-or-not-to-invade question, they are. But in their collective allergy to any fact that may complicate their position; their proud blindness to the color gray, and their fervent faith in their own infallibility, the two sides have always struck me as very much the same.

Don't get me wrong. If I felt that this post were going to be read by a bunch of war apologists, I would take them angrily to task for the manifest, manifold failures in Iraq, and the criminally self-indulgent fictions on which those failures were based. But since this post is presumably being read mostly by war critics, I will devote it to challenging anti-war activists on their apparent belief that everything they say about Iraq is, always has been, and ever shall be true.

It is not, for instance, true that it was the American-led invasion that opened season on the slaughter of innocent Iraqi civilians. Whatever else the Bush administration made up about Iraq, the rank murderousness of Saddam Hussein was not one of them. Amid the gunfire and giddiness of Baghdad right after its fall in April 2003, it was common to find people converging onto bits of infrastructure, manically fueled by the rumor mill: someone had said that there was a torture chamber underneath this stretch of highway; a secret prison built into this wall. People had no time to be interviewed; if they talked at all, they'd keep going as they panted: "My husband/brother/son disappeared twenty odd years ago; he could still be alive; I have to get him out." {..}

It is not true that the Americans invaded Iraq against the will of the Iraqi people. They did so against the will of Saddam, against the will of those who flourished under Saddam, and against the will of numerous Sunn'is and Christians, most of them utterly blameless for the crimes of the regime, who feared what would happen to them after the Shi'ites got out from under Saddam.

None of this was really surprising. In the months prior to the war, I had spent almost all my time in neighboring, not-so-democratic countries. Among average people, the biggest sentiment expressed about the ever-more-likely prospect of American action in Iraq wasn't "how dare you come to our region and topple a sovereign government!" It was, "jeez - why don't you come here too?" Once in Iraq, when I would get e-mails from concerned friends and family as to whether people hated me because I was an American, I'd laugh. It wasn't the idea of Americans being disliked that cracked me up; it was the idea of Americans being alone on the list, or even in the top ten. Let's see: Iraqis hated the French and the Russians for doing so much business with Saddam. They hated other Arab governments for leaving them to be brutalized by him. They hated the Palestinians for having sided with Saddam in the war of '91, and they hated the Syrians for sending in - or at least allowing the sending-in of --- jihadists to make trouble now. As for anti-American sentiment, that which was most commonly expressed was not against George W. Bush for having taken Saddam out. It was that expressed against George H.W. Bush for not having done so when, as they viewed it, he had had the chance.{...}

In many areas of Iraq, generally, palpably pro-American feeling was not imaginary, it was not rare, and -- apart from the total-infatuation, flower-tossing phase which did fade quickly -- it was not all that short-lived. In fact, I'd say - with considerable anger and frustration of my own - that the U.S. had at least one year in which the overwhelming majority of Iraqis were only too willing to believe that much as they disliked and then despised the fact of foreign occupation, that occupation was going to lead them somewhere they wanted to go.

This shocked me. About eight or nine months into it, the bloom was well and truly off the American rose: the initial post-Saddam chaos, far from being calmed, had simply become the rule. Crimes -- political, semi-political, and just plain old crooked - were committed with impunity. Kidnapping rings, like internet cafes and car dealerships, had begun springing up everywhere. And of course, the promise of jobs and housing and restored electricity and all the rest of it never came close to being kept. It is true that even the most brilliant, best organized administration would have been hard pressed to bridge the gap between the expectations of Iraqis and the limits of reality - but also true that the U.S. established a tyranny of ineptitude that baffles me to this day. {....}

It's easy to rewrite a very complex story as a dark fairy tale that begins and ends with the evil of Bush and Cheney. This, presumably, is why so many people are doing it. But it's still wrong.

If none of this was ever hard - if the consensus is simply that this whole invasion was always a stupid idea and there was never, ever any reason why any good or intelligent person would have considered it - then all we have to do is elect someone nice and smart, and ignore whatever legitimate factors there may have been to mitigate our certitude. We won't have to think about what, if anything, a dictator can do to compromise his sovereignty in the eyes of the world. We won't have to think about what, if anything, should be done to enforce peace agreements that have been shredded, or international sanctions that have been ignored. We don't have to worry about where, if anywhere, we draw the line between allowing international bodies, such as the U.N., to prevent war, and allowing them to perpetuate, if only indirectly, very serious violence of other kinds.

Finally, what depresses me, and makes me despise so much war criticism even when I agree with it, is that so many of those positing it seem so happy about what's gone wrong. They seem to relish the probability that Iraq will get worse and worse so that they can be righter and righter. (...)

Read the whole thing in it's entirety: Tish Durkin: Iraq: A Place of Ambivalence


John D Infidel said...

What I believe drives the majority of war critics here in the United States in a viceral hatred of George W Bush. The leftist Dhimmicrats have never gotten over the 2000 Presidential Election. This is the genesis of current leftist conspiracy theories.

Freedom Fighter said...

Well, that..and the utter mismanagement of the war and, shall we say, some mistargeted efforts...

Read this for some further prospective:

J O S H U A P U N D I T: Between Iraq and a hard place - Why we went, how it got so screwed up and where it's going , Part 1


J O S H U A P U N D I T: Between Iraq and a hard place - Why we went, how it got so screwed up and where it's going - Part 2

Thanks for dropping by John