Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Two Toms In The Times On Torments in Iraq

Tom Friedman, the globe-trotting, incessantly name-dropping NY Times columnist, who was a big cheerleader for the US Iraq invasion. Now, after his latest hobnob with various poohbahs there, he's worried. From his Feb. 24 column:

"Alas,” he writes, ”some seven years after the U.S. toppled Saddam’s government, a few weeks before Iraq’s second democratic national election, and in advance of the pullout of American forces, this question still has not been answered. Will Iraq’s new politics triumph over its cultural divides, or will its cultural/sectarian divides sink its fledgling democracy? We still don’t know.”

This question arises, he says, because “we gave Iraqis a chance to do something no other Arab people have ever had a chance to do: freely write their own social contract on how they would like to rule themselves and live together.”

To be sure, we “gave” the Iraqis that “chance” to be like us unbidden, under a rain of bombs and artillery shells, and at the cost of a million or so civilians dead, several millions made homeless, a civil war there, the legitimization of torture here, and a few other bumps in the road.

What does one call this in Friedman-speak? “Tough-love philanthropy” maybe? How hollow this kind of commentary must ring in the ears of so many of its putative "beneficiaries"!

I see the situation a bit differently, with the help of Scripture, specifically the harsh words of the prophet Hosea 8:7. In Iraq the US has amply “sown the wind,” but in typical American fashion, are hoping we can yet avoid “reaping the whirlwind” there, by sliding out, having our victory parades, re-electing whoever is in power here, and then forget the whole thing -- before the bloody consequences of this orgy of destruction become too obvious.

This is more cynical than Friedman would cop to, but it's not that far from what he is hoping for. Yet he's very worried that the whole thing will blow up first.

And he's not alone. Tom Ricks, former ace Washington Post reporter, shared similar anxieties on the same OpEd page the day before, on Feb. 23:

In 2006 Ricks published “Fiasco,” one of the best, most honest, and hence most disturbing books about the manifold early horrors of the Iraq invasion/occupation. But honest reporting of a disaster didn't make Ricks an antiwar activist, and since then he has come to feel that the occupation might turn out better than anyone imagined.

Or maybe worse.

His OpEd piece in the New York Times was a plea for US fores to stay there longer. Ricks is worried about the pace at which the current administration is withdrawing US troops from Iraq

His main fear, similar to but more starkly stated than Friedman's, is that, “An Iraqi civil war would likely be a three- or four-sided affair, with the Shiites breaking into pro- and anti-Iranian factions. It could also easily metastasize into a regional war.” Further, he fears that “A regional war in the middle of the world’s oil patch could shake the global economy to its foundations and make the current recession look mild.”

So he hopes the administration will keep 50,000-plus US troops there, essentially indefinitely, to stave off this outcome until – until what? Until a miracle happens, I guess.

Nevertheless, the real kicker in his piece comes very near the end:

“The best argument against keeping troops in Iraq,” he says, “is the one some American military officers make, which is that a civil war is inevitable, and that by staying all we are doing is postponing it. That may be so, but I don’t think it is worth gambling to find out.”

But evading this "gamble" means keeping a major US troop force there indefinitely, as in generations.

I too wish I knew a way for the US to escape these awful consequences of our illegal and immoral invasion of that country. But I don't. Sooner or later those chickens will be coming home to roost. But like Ricks, I think they will look a lot more like buzzards.

God forgive us for this monumental folly, which is still unfolding.

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