politics, world

How I Forgot Iraq

soldiersmediacenterSunset in Iraq

There’s been a lot of talk recently–especially among America’s chattering left–about how dire it is that Americans have forgotten about Iraq. Today being the five year anniversary of the invasion, what better day is there tackle the issue? I, one who listens quite often to the chattering left, have forgotten about Iraq. I’m wondering how anyone can not have forgotten Iraq.

To be clear, I’ve not forgotten about the country. I’ve not forgotten about what an debacle the after-invasion rebuilding effort was. I’ve not forgotten how incorrect the majority of commentators were about the necessity of going to war there. But I have stopped thinking about it.

The news of another bombing and of more American casualities no longer strikes as a tragedy or even unusual. It sounds like the same old news. And whether 4 or 40 or 400 died today if will surely fail to register with any of the needed depth.

I have come to accept the death of four of five Americans a week–and at least ten times as many Iraqis–as par for the course. This is not to say that I think the president was right or is right; he’s foolish if he really thinks that serving in Iraq is exhilarating more than it is terrifying.

But as galling as that recent statement was, as galling as a death of any single person is, there’s only so much worry or anger I can contain. Josef Stalin’s often credited with the phrase “One death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic.” Similarly, during the Great Depression Harry Hopkins noted that “You can pity six men, but you can’t keep stirred up over six million.”

It’s a sad but true fact that my suffering causes me great pain and heartache. And at times where the suffering of others is made most plain to me, I can sometimes feel the same about their suffering. But the suffering those soldiers and civilians, injured, dead, or mourning, is not something I spend a great deal of time worrying about. Nor do I manage to worry enough about the mental welfare of troop constantly redeployed at heretofore unheard of frequency. The constant and apparently mild scale of tragedy is more than the average citizen can (or wants to) regularly worry about.

I have no doubt that hundreds if not thousands of people suffer anew every week that the simmering conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan continue. I have no doubt that many of those suffering are Americans like me. It’s a tragedy that they have to suffer for the war there.

And though Iraqis and Afghans clearly suffered under the tyrannical regimes in their recent past, that doesn’t do much to diminish the suffering they’re now experiencing during the turbulent struggle for their countries. It’s a tragedy that this conflict, however terrible it’s predecessor, hasn’t been resolved by now.

But it’s not the kind of tragedy that has made me–until I sat down to write this–pay attention. It’s that miss-able kind that I don’t see and don’t hear and don’t remember. And so I, like much of the population, forget and ignore the terrible cost to this country and its citizens of this war. I, like much of the population, don’t worry nearly enough about the cost to civilians on the ground of this war. Of any war.

It’s an ugly truth that within days of publishing this with a heavy heart about the suffering I’ve so frequently ignored, I will again have pushed the suffering in Iraq, and engendered by the events in Iraq, out of my mind. I’ve certainly done it before. Though I agree that it’s a tragedy, I simply don’t have the power or will to constantly remember and despair at the ugly cost of war. That’s ugly, but it’s true.

Standard
big ideas, OPW, world

OPW: Finding Commonality Inside Iraq

Earlier this week I encountered a pretty interesting piece in the New York Review of Books. Entitled “As Iraqis See It,” the piece gives an inside look into the lives of Iraqis working for the McClatchy news organization, one of America’s biggest. McClatchy provides these reporters with a blog, called Inside Iraq, which is where most of the stories in the piece originate. One of the most striking passages was this:

While courteous, the men look right through her. One of the Americans begins searching the living room. In it is a large bookcase filled with books in English. “You read a lot Ma’am?” he asks. “Yes, in fact I do,” she replies, using English for the first time. “What’s this?” he says. “Heinlein? Asimov? Grisham?”

He turns to look at me again, this time with a different expression in his eyes. “Do you have a weapon?” “Yes, of course. It’s in that cabinet.”

He opens the cabinet and looks closely inside.

“You play Diablo?! And what’s this?! Grand Theft Auto??” He forgets all about the weapon and turns to us with a wide grin on his face, and astonishment in his eyes. My son asks him, “Is ours the first house you search?”, “No, why?”, “Because all my friends have these games, why are you so surprised?” The serviceman looks embarrassed, and turns to inspect the weapon.

They went through every room, every cabinet, closet and drawer silently. After they accomplished their mission, in about thirty minutes, they walked out, gray shadows in the twilight.

With its quiet exploration of the subtle interplay between occupier and occupied, the vignette reminded me of Orwell’s writings about his imperial service in Burma. Interested in learning more, I reached Sahar via phone at McClatchy’s Baghdad office. She told me that when the American soldier discovered Grisham and Asimov on her bookshelf, “He was totally amazed. When he looked at me, he didn’t see an Iraqi woman in a hijab, he saw a human being. You can’t imagine the look on his face—there were tears in his eyes. He was inside a house, with love, a family, like anywhere else.”

The incident, Sahar said, gave her a sense of the extent to which the Iraqi people are unknown. “People in America look at pictures of Afghanistan and think Iraq is the same,” she said. “They think Iraqis are people who are uneducated, who are Bedouins living in tents, tending camels and sheep.” Until the plague of wars began devouring the country, she went on, Iraq was the leading nation in the region, with a highly educated people boasting the best doctors, teachers, and engineers. Americans, Sahar sighed, “don’t know this. And when you don’t know a person, you can’t feel for them, can you?”

She continued: “How many have been killed in Iraq? Bordering on a million. If you realize that these are real people with real feelings who are being killed—that they are fathers and husbands, teachers and doctors—if these facts could be made known, would people be so brutalized? It’s our job as Iraqi journalists to show that Iraqis are real people. This is what we try to advance through the blog.”

Standard
american society, USA, world

“There is almost no problem we can solve all by ourselves”

Source: cursedthingBill Clinton

Former President Bill Clinton was on Charlie Rose last Friday. He said a lot of interesting things, and though they also did a fair bit of rehashing tired arguments about the presidential campaign, it is a pretty good interview to watch.

Without question, the line that most caught my attention was this one: Mr. Clinton said, making what felt like a rather precarious jump, that the American people now know as they never have before that “there is almost no problem we can solve all by ourselves.” That America’s citizenry recognizes that the problems we face as a country: terrorism, nuclear proliferation, climate change, health, and immigration, are all outside of the control of any single government, even the most powerful.

Though Clinton wouldn’t have been a good politician if he regularly denigrated the intelligence of the American people–as I sometimes think is appropriate–I do think he’s overstated the case. One doesn’t have to look very hard in this country to find people as convinced as ever that America has the right to impose its will upon the world. That its policy can and should be to unilaterally do whatever it wants, whenever it judges itself justified.

I have no doubt that those who easily forget that the United States is merely one country in a much larger world is shrinking and continues to shrink. But I find it incredibly hard to accept the argument that the whole populous has come to this revelation.

To be fair, Mr. Clinton is doubly right. More Americans than ever realize that their government doesn’t run the world, and every day a few more do. Further, he’s right in that the world is indeed a less “Amerocentric” place than at any other time since the Second World War.

Certainly, the attacks on September 11, 2001 shook a number of people out of the delusion that they lived in an impenetrable fortress from which they can run roughshod over the whole world and never face any consequences. Unfortunately, from there they went on to allow Mr. Bush to convince them that the wisest course to restore their illusory security was to depose Saddam Hussein–a hideous man no doubt, but hardly a grave threat to American security.

It is in Mr. Bush’s nearly-unilateral, (now known to be) misguided, and poorly executed invasion of Iraq that many Americans realized that they cannot persist as a hegemon. So too has Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Bush’s intransigence on climate change, and the many failed attempts to reform America’s broken immigration laws.

All of this has made clear that Americans do not have sole control over their own destiny. Though I hate the over-simplistic term, “the emergence of China” has clearly changed the world. For one, America’s recent economics hardships have been far more localized than many expected.

There was a time when a devaluation of the American dollar was an absolutely terrifying scenario for world economics, but it hasn’t had the expected debilitating impact. As the world slowly decouples from the formerly-all-important American economy (and thus its government), this country, like Britain before it, will have to recognize that it is not the king of the world.

Love or hate the former President, he is right about that.

Standard
politics, review, world

Review: Hometown Baghdad

Perhaps I was the only one it miss it, but until yesterday (when it appeared on ABC’s Nightline) I was unaware of this incredible project. Hometown Baghdad is a series of vignettes–or episodes if you prefer–about what life is like in modern Baghdad.

The show, which was released from March to June of this year, uses short (two to eight minute) episodes to show many aspects of what life is like for its three protagonists–all middle-class male twenty-somethings living in Baghdad. Though we could rightly question the reasons for choosing such similar people, the show is still compelling, interesting, and worthy of attention.

Hometown Baghdad logoHometown Baghdad shows how people live day-to-day in the war-torn county’s capital. That people are still living in Baghdad was something of a revelation for me. This is something that is clear in the abstract, if asked the question, “Are there average people living in Baghdad?” I would have of course answered yes.

Hometown Baghdad not only asks that question, it answers it. We see these three men struggle with some very normal things: friends leaving, dating, surviving summer heat. And yet we also see them pinned into their homes because of gunfights in the street outside, worrying about getting home by curfew, and the results of some misguided US military actions.

This incredibly ordinary life in incredibly extraordinary circumstances was, for me, the surprise. These men, though their country is full of frightening events, keep going outside of their door. Keep seeing their friends, keep going to school. I’d never have thought normal life was possible inside a war-zone, but I suppose I’m merely learning that all life is normal.

Hometown Baghdad also conjures up some complicated questions. As Saif complains about life in modern Baghdad, I wondered if it was better for him under Saddam. I wondered if it would be better if the US forces exited Iraq immediately. I wondered if the surge has had a positive impact on life in Baghdad.

These questions are not unusual, but the way we can see them through Hometown Baghdad is. Rather then seeing the “war” as a question of “winning,” “casualties,” or “terrorism” we have to question its impact on everyday life for Iraqis.

Does this open a magic window through which we can see the proper way for America to proceed in wading through this quagmire? Of course not.

But it renews our ability to consider the outcomes in light of other factors. To consider not only the lives of American soldiers, their families, and politicians, but the lives of average Iraqi citizens. It is this which is new, and very worthwhile. And that is the reason that you should watch Hometown Baghdad.

Standard
politics, USA, world

Global Unease With World’s Major Powers

A few days ago, I read about the recent results of the Pew Global Attitudes project. Here is part of Pew’s summary of their own results (full summary here):

A 47-nation survey finds global public opinion increasingly wary of the world’s dominant nations and disapproving of their leaders. Anti-Americanism is extensive, as it has been for the past five years. At the same time, the image of China has slipped significantly among the publics of other major nations. Opinion about Russia is mixed, but confidence in its president, Vladimir Putin, has declined sharply. In fact, the Russian leader’s negatives have soared to the point that they mirror the nearly worldwide lack of confidence in George W. Bush.

These are merely the most popular of the results. There are number of potentially more interesting things that I was modestly surprised by.

Pew reports that dislike of America and its methods of business are decidedly lower in African countries than it is even in traditional allies like Israel, Poland, and Japan. I was left questioning the methodology of the survey, wondering if the methodology itself could sway the data toward an upper-class data set (by virtue of phone penetration) that would in general have a different view than their fellow citizens. Alas, upon closer examination I found that the results were gathered face-to-face in most of these countries, leaving me with something more of a mystery.

I also found it interesting that a lot of the distrust of US power was due not only to our continued “coalition” presence in Iraq and NATO presence in Afghanistan, but to our perceived role in continuing pollution levels that are harmful to the environment (though China merited a good deal of the burden for this as well), and our continued leadership in sustaining the divide between rich and poor.

More troubling to me personally, is that Pew reports that views of the American citizenry are increasingly coming to see it as just as culpable for US policies as our government is. This is not really unexpected, after all, we are electing our leaders, but why this has changed since the survey was last conducted in 2001 is something of a mystery to me.

I could go on, but I think I covered all the major points I saw. I would really encourage you to give the summary a look. It’s very interesting stuff, and I mean that.

Standard