What About Iraq?
By Charles Rush
May 27, 2007 - Memorial Day
Ecclesiastes 3: 6-8
(mp3, 6.1Mb) ]
get a number of e-mail requests to "Support our Troops", probably half of them coming to me because I have a Son in the Army. The question for this Memorial Day is "What does it exactly mean to support the Troops?" in the context of Iraq.[i]
It is true that
having a child in the military provides some personal depth to that question.
My son served an extended time in Afghanistan. Indeed, he was drafted for an extra
year and a few months over his 4 year commitment because this is widely
happening at the moment. His unit is in Iraq right now, though he is stationed
back at the base in Hawaii- it is not too tough an assignment
and we have made the sacrifice to visit him at Christmas time for the past two
I am personally
sensitized to the toll that the present situation places on families of
soldiers. What we are doing drafting our National Guard and Army reservists to
fill the ranks of a regular standing Army is simply not right, not just and it
needs to stop.
agreed to serve actively in a national emergency and the military deployment in
Iraq is not an emergency. They will serve when called but
we should not be calling them up for this. It puts enormous, unnecessary strain
on these families.
My son has been
responsible for interacting with the families of deployed soldiers in his unit,
an enormous task for a young person 22 years of age. He called me a while ago
because he had to speak at a funeral for a 7 month old child that died from
Sudden Infant Death syndrome. It turns out that this child took walks with his
daughter. This assignment is difficult enough.
And if you add
the problems of dealing with a father that is in Iraq- my point is simply this,
even our soldiers that are not on the front lines are going through a great
deal of difficult stress. I know that in my son's battalion, something like 9
young men have died in the past year.
conditions, war is very difficult. As a maxim, we owe it to our soldiers and
their families to provide them with a clear, definable mission… Absent that, we
have an obligation to bring them home as soon as possible.
Then you come
to the muddled political question of what we should actually do in Iraq and this becomes much more difficult
to discern. Perhaps you saw the review of Al Gore's new book last week. In that
book, he apparently accuses the Bush administration of ineptitude, arrogance,
and incompetence. It lacked an academic, qualified tone.
No question, we
are all experiencing a great deal of frustration… We don't entirely understand
the nature of the 'Insurgency'. There appears to be at least the usual level of
corruption and graft that attends war- and Americans are regularly scandalized
that the rest of the world operates so brazenly around pay-offs, kick backs and
bribes. So there is ennui and inefficiency. The original goals of
re-construction seem to be receding. There are a significant number of people
that question our moral authority for re-constructing the country since our
original reasons for invading turned out to be in error- simply that the regime
was not so close to being able to deploy weapons of mass destruction and was
not a genuine threat to our national security as Admiral Hyman Rickover has argued with some authority.
I'm sure that
I'm not alone in speculating that when the historians review this chapter 100
years from now, they may well define the era by contrasting the "Orange
revolution" that happened in the Ukraine- where the movement for democracy
came from the people and without force- with the attempt to 'Establish
democracy through force in the Middle East' with the invasion of Iraq. Did the
neo-Cons fall prey to many of the same mis-conceptions that attended the idealism of the Wilson administration 100 years ago?
On the other
side, there have been a remarkable spate of thoughtful
essays arguing that we should stay in Iraq in the past few weeks in the Wall
Street Journal. Max Boot, the author of "War Made New" argued that
the surge is working, that a low-grade civil war has been in the making for quite a
long time and that the American army is making a stabilizing difference if you
take the time to carefully analyze a number of subtle indicators.[ii]
the Princeton Professor of Middle Eastern studies, argued that chaos was the
strategy from the beginning on the part of Al Qaeda and that they presumed we
would not have the stomach for it, which is why we should stay the course.[iii]
Melik Kaylan, the Turkish
reporter that reported on a recent trip he made with the Iraqi soldiers and
their American counter-parts from Baghdad to a small village in Anbar province, where they were making a palpable
difference and had the support of the local people.[iv]
Kerrey, former Democratic Senator from Nebraska, member of the 9/11 Commission
and President of the New School for Social Research, asked the question of his
fellow liberals how they can ask for military intervention in Darfur, Somalia,
previously Rwanda and Bosnia to end sectarian violence and not see the
sectarian violence in Iraq as a matter of conscience also? His plea was for a
3rd way, a long-term strategy to combat terrorism without occupying Iraq.[v]
But what caught
my eye recently were two articles by Fouad Ajami, the professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Johns
Hopkins University, who has earned a reputation for discernment and balance in
the past 6 years, as he has been called on increasingly as an interpreter of
the Middle East for the our news shows.
Professor Ajami wrote a lengthy book review in the New Republic[i][vi],
a book that appears to be required reading for those that want to know the
story behind the story. Ali Allawi's family was
expelled from Iraq 40 years ago. Educated in England and at MIT, he was asked to be
Ambassador from the United States to Iraq, which he declined because he could
not support the Bush administration policies in good conscience. He has served
as Finance Minister in Iraq, and was part of the team that
calculated the theft from the treasury in Bagdhad at
between 1.3 billion and 2.3 billion. I love that fudge factor, just over a
billion dollars. I know I'm just a country preacher but it hard for me to
understand how that kind of theft doesn't leave quite a trail behind it.
Allawi's new book is The
Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace.[vii]
Apparently it's great value lies in explaining the various factions in Iraq and how they have evolved in the
past 30 years. Both author and reviewer take special note of the American
narcissism to look at Iraq simply through the lens of what the
American military has done or what the American government has done, without
any substantive analysis of the internal issues that keep responsibility
squarely on the shoulders of the Iraqi's for their destiny.
Both of them
suggest that Iraq is probably one of America's 'greatest strategic blunders' for
reasons that are so familiar by now they don't bear repeating. We didn't know
what we were getting into- in many cases we lacked even an elementary
understanding of the peoples, the faiths, and the tensions between them. On the
other hand, they point out that Iraq was one of the most insular
countries on the planet.
things, we will collectively come to a sobering recalculation of the depth of
social dysfunction that attends societies that have been subject to 3 decades
(2 generations) of unremitting tyranny and terror. By the time the Americans
invaded Iraq, this country with its proud history
of education, saw more than a quarter of its population no longer attending
school and over a third of its residents illiterate.[viii]
the stifling authoritarian repression was removed, the ancient historical
tensions between the Sunni's, Shia, and the Kurds
resurfaced to fester in public. "Essentially, it was based on the recognition
by the Shi'a elite that they might have some share of
central power, within limits that would satisfy the more ambitious of their
leaders. But they should not aspire to control or run the state, even though
their numbers might warrant this. At the same time, the state, dominated by
Sunni Arabs, would recognize and acknowledge the props of Shia
identity, and would not move to alter or shrink them in any significant way.
Essentially, the Sunni Arabs controlled the state, while the Shia were allowed their civil,
mercantile and religious traditions. It was a precarious balance, but it
But for two
decades previous to our arrival on the scene, the Sunni's, through the Baath party of Sadam Hussein, had
been destroying this arrangement, disenfranchising the Shia
mercantile class, their cultural institutions, leading to a mass exodus…
You may recall
that after a year of the occupation, the American forces were led to a mass
grave in the marshes of the South of Iraq, a mass grave that contained somewhere
between 300,000 and 400,000 Shia that had been
murdered by Sadam Hussein. We covered this in the U.S. but we were unable to understand
exactly how deeply this discovery affected the Shia
in the region and fueled their radicalization, according to Mr. Allawi. This concrete symbol filled them with a moral
outrage that had been accumulating for decades of overt repression, an outrage
that has yet to be resolved.
Likewise, as we
bitterly know now, the Sunni's were also becoming radicalized. As Professor Ajami points out, in a rational world, the Sunni's might
have calculated that given their responsibility for the egregious tyranny of
the Hussein regime, they might have made a cool calculation to accept some
representation in the new government and cede their dominion. But this is not
the way human ego works. "They had the habits and the memories of power,
and they had their sense of entitlement to it." So when the Americans
began the inevitable process of de-Baathification,
they effectively declared war on the Americans and opened their doors to all
manner of Sunni jihadists from the surrounding
countries of Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. This is the point when nuttiness
began to spiral out of control.
The value of Allawi's book is that he details the way that these
developments formed new sub-groups in the Shia
community and in the Sunni community, so that you understand there is no simple
'Shia faction' anymore than there is a simple
'Democratic faction'. It allows you to better understand the shape that the
political future is likely to hold in the near term.
As you know,
after a few months of supporting the use of terror against the Americans, the
Sunni's came to a collective decision that jihadists
were killing their country to attack Americans and they have now formed an
alliance with the American forces to rid their provinces of the very elements
they invited in. Indeed, the Sunni's at present regard the Americans as their
best hope for redemption.
A great deal
more analysis should be developed but I can't for lack of time. So I cut to
Professor Ajami's summary… "It is true that the
carpetbaggers and the profiteers have returned to Baghdad, and it is true that decent men and
women have fled the terror of Saddam Hussein. It is certainly true that the
sectarian violence in Iraq is excruciating, and a threat to all
prospects of decency. And yet it is not nightfall that has
descended on Iraq, but a savage and uncertain dawn. In those sentences that reporters
and travelers and outsiders have brought with them out of Iraq, my favorite remains that of a
professional woman who declared that under Saddam Iraqis lived in a big prison
and now they are in the wilderness-- and that she prefers the wilderness.
this, Professor Ajami says that Iraq may be America's greatest strategic blunder…
"But all is not yet lost"… he adds.
Bush's Wilsonianism may have erred on the side of
excessive optimism, and may have come to him only after the hunt for weapons of
mass destruction ran aground; but that is only the American side of the story.
The Arab side is that modern-day Arabs had for decades been lamenting the cozy
accommodation of American power to the forces of local autocracy. Lynndie England and Charles Graner
were brutes and sadists, but tens of thousands of American soldiers had for
Iraqi's nothing but tender mercies. The terrible errors of this war can never
smother its honor… A new history is opening itself to the Iraqis, and in the tale of
disappointment…, there is still the furtive shadow of hope, and echo of
deliverance, and undisguised sense of fulfillment at the spectacle of men and
women released from a terrible captivity."[x]
I cannot close
without a reminder of the high cost that we are paying. And it is true that
there are losses on all sides and the only way to keep those real is to
remember the only way that they are experienced, as personal losses to families
and friends. This one from a couple weeks ago.
"FIRST LIEUTENANT TRAVIS L. MANION, U.S. Marine Corps, was killed during
combat operations on Sunday, April 29, 2007, in the Anbar
Province of Iraq while serving his second tour of duty while assigned to the
1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary
Force, based out of Camp Pendleton, CA. Born November 19, 1980 in Camp Lejune, NC, he was the son of Thomas and Jannette (nee Lemma) Manion.
Travis graduated from LaSalle College High School in 1999 where he lettered in
Wrestling, Football and Lacrosse and was a member of five Catholic League
Championship Teams, was named to both the Wrestling and Lacrosse 1st Team
All-Catholic teams, and earned All-American honors in Wrestling. Travis was the
recipient of the Hal Selvey, Jr. Memorial Award for
Unselfish Dedication and Leadership presented by the Philadelphia Wrestling
Association in 1999.
Travis graduated from the US Naval Academy in 2004 where he was a 2004
preseason national top 20 wrestler. He won the 2002 - 2003 Weems
Award for Leadership and Dedication presented by the
Naval Academy Wrestling Association…"[xi]
are our brightest and our best. It is a reminder of just how spiritually
expensive this enterprise really is and just how much sober judgment we owe
them as we develop a way out of the complicated morass we have created for
[i] I was
originally responding to an article I never mention in the text. It was Fouad Ajami's "Iraq
in the Balance" in the Wall Street
Journal, on April 11, 2007
the lead Op-Ed article for the day.
"Surging Ahead" WSJ (Tuesday, May 15), A17.
"Was Osama Right?" WSJ (Wednesday, May 16),
[iv] "Battling al Qaeda in Iraq",
WSJ (Monday, May
21, 2007) A17.
"The Left's Iraq
Muddle", WSJ (Tuesday, May 22,
believe that it can be found in TNR (April 26, 2007). I actually got it
from a website as my on-line subscription had run out. See
[vii] The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War,
Losing the Peace, by Ali Allawi -- http://www.amazon.com/Occupation-Iraq-Winning-Losing-Peace/dp/0300110154
section ii of that article
conclusion in section iii.
section iv. This is the conclusion of the article
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