When it comes to Iraq, the pols and the pundits fetishize details, hang hopes on minutia and forfeit a deeper understanding of the place and people. The devil is not in the details, but in the big picture. More troops or training for Iraqis, better baksheesh, Maliki or Moqtada—these will make no difference. For the government of Iraq doesn’t stand apart from the governed; it reflects them. Ditto the phantom known as the Iraqi Army.
The divisions that have riven the region for four millennia are mirrored in the current regime, and will continue to hobble every successive government that hunkers down in the Green Zone, where it’ll forever be forced to take cover, incapable of governing Baghdad, much less the rest of the country—a reality the philosopher-kings who sing from Bush’s hymn sheet are slowly accepting. But have neoconservatives slunk off the political stage? Not on your life; they’ve merely shifted tactics, and now blame, first, faulty logistics for failure in Iraq.
Rummy’s sacking was an extension of this superficial thinking. The meaningless musical chairs that ensued suggested that if one could only pinpoint and uproot the source of dysfunction in the administration, Iraq would be on the mend. Grappling with the deep moral and intellectual failings that facilitated the war was out of the question. Another more contemptible and cowardly strategy has been to blame the chaos on ordinary Iraqis, who never asked to be invaded and “improved.”
Every bit as light weight and inconsequential were the hearings on the war, which followed on the heels of the Rummy red herring. Senator John McCain insisted on, wait for it…more troops. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina parroted McCain—he often does. Gen. John P. Abizaid, top American military commander in the Middle East, wisely disagreed, although his “innovation” was to suggest that the Iraqi military be trained “more robustly.” Yes, that’s what this ragamuffin militia needs, more of what’s been worse than useless so far.
In such company, the Hildebeest dazzled. “I have heard over and over again, ‘the government must do this, the Iraqi Army must do that’,” warbot Clinton complained to Abizaid. “Can you offer us more than the hope that the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Army will step up to the task?” As if she doesn’t know the answer.
At least Faux News has cut the treacle about Iraqi good-news stories. If anything, we are spared the full spectrum of the horror in Iraq, where at least a million people have been displaced and are now impoverished, aid-dependent refugees in their own country. Children, who once played safely in the streets, can’t leave home, although enterprising criminals regularly invite themselves into homes and kidnap family members for ransom.
(Mind you, so-called good-news stories are not good at all. What is so good about American soldiers building schools for Iraqi children with money mulcted from you and me? Nothing. Principled conservatives ought to oppose, not celebrate, such confiscation.)
If Iraqis appear ungrateful or disoriented, it is because they are busy … busy dying at rates many times higher than under Saddam. In the final days of Saddam’s reign of terror, i.e., in the 15 months preceding the invasion, the primary causes of death in Iraq were natural: “heart attack, stroke and chronic illness,” as the Lancet reported. Since Iraq became a Bush object lesson, the primary cause of death has been violence.
Still, there is something really screwy about this administration’s admonitions to Iraqis to get with the program. As though Iraq ever had it together; Hussein’s reign was one of the more peaceful periods in the history of this fractious people. What a shame it’s too late to dust Saddam off, give him a sponge bath, and beg him to restore law and order to Iraq.
Secretly, that’s what anyone with a head and a heart would want. We could promise solemnly never to mess with him again—just so long as he kept his mitts off nukes, continued to check Iran (which he did splendidly), and minimized massacres. To be fair, Saddam’s last major massacre was in 1991, during which only 3,000 Shiites were murdered. That’s less than Iraq’s monthly quota under “democracy.”
No one is praising Saddam, yada, yada, yada. But even the Saddam-equals-Hitler crowd cannot but agree that Iraq was not a lawless society prior to our faith-based intervention. Even the war’s enablers must finally admit that under our ministrations Iraq has gone from a secular to a religious country; from rogue to failed state.
Put yourself in the worn-out shoes of this sad, pathetic people. Would you rather live under Saddam—who was a brutal dictator, but did provide Iraq with one of the foundations of civilization: order—or under a force made up of ideological terrorists, feuding warlords, and an “Ali Baba” element, all running rampant because they can, and where not even mosques provide a safe haven from these brutes and their bombs?
The author of “The Purpose-Driven Life” may be wrong about very many things, as Joseph Farah has cogently contended. But Rick Warren is right about this: Syria is a moderate Muslim country. So was Iraq before our mission of mercy. A secular strongman suppressing the seething Arab Street is as moderate as it gets across Dar al-Islam. Americans had better remember that.
© 2006 By Ilana Mercer