Thursday, October 21, 2004

About elections and the war in Iraq

Both the administration and its opposition have succeded in making the upcoming presidential election a plebiscite on the war. The administration has an advantage because we are led to view the war though the lens of September 11, 2001 (now three years past, incidentally). That defining moment marks the formation of a political will to defeat terrorism, but it by no means marks the start of terrorism. Efforts to defeat terrorism have been going on for a long time, but the term "war" only got applied when American popular consciousness finally caught up with global reality.

Most Americans believe that the war in Iraq is the same as the War on Terror. It is true that there are terrorists in Iraq and they are responsible for much of the conflict, but terrorism is an international, not local concern. By focusing on a local conflict in the form of a conventional war the US is feeding rather than delimiting the forces of terror.

Often cited as a justification for the war is the "fight for democracy and freedom". The meaning of freedom is not the same for Iraqis as it is for Americans. And democracy is by no means what we really want because of the plain threat that there will be a tyranny of the majority, one of the principal problems with democracy recognized long ago.

This piece makes me wonder if we really want democracy in a place where the majority is so ready to abuse a minority group.

Talking to my relatives in Iraq makes me certain things are not going well for Christians, who constitute an estimated 3 percent of Iraq's population, or 800,000 people. My aunt has complained many times about the Christians' situation in Basra since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime. Islamic extremists are now trying to impose Iranian-style rules in the city. They started by burning liquor stores owned by Christians, and prohibited the sale of alcohol in public. My aunt left with her family for Syria in August. Link

Pro-war sentiment has now crystalized to the point that to speak of being against the war is tantamount to treason. As I listen to talk radio and television is sense that few people remain who are willing to speak openly about trying to find a way for the US to bring this conflict to an end. We want to "win", of course, but the meaning of that word is as elusive today as it was when it was used forty years ago regarding the ostensible defeat of Communism in Southeast Asia. There is no way to recognize when we have won, because the problems we are fighting are multiplying rather than diminishing.

What is the connection between terrorism and Christian liquor store owners? You don't see it? Neither do I, but that is very much beside the point. If significant numbers of devout Muslims see a connection, then there is one. As far as terrorism is concerned, the reality has more to do with planting and inflaming a conflict rather than trying to figure out a way to avert one. Vigilante groups are an expression of democracy at its most basic level.

Likewise, when a handful of civilians, no doubt under the tutelage of a trained, card-carrying "terrorist", get together to build, plant and watch over a roadside bomb in hopes of detonating it as an American convoy goes past, the impact of terrorism is spreading, not shrinking. When a community feels threatened eveyone becomes a soldier. For every roadside bomb that detonates, there are many more that do not. When I hear stories of roadside bombs killing people, I think of the tragedy and loss of life, but I also think of many others that are set and ready, like so many mousetraps or fishing lures, that didn't go off. Each of these enterprises represents a spreading disease in Iraq. Trying to wipe them out is like drinking prune juice as a remedy for diarrhea.

"If we didn't fight them there, then we would have to fight them over here."

Sorry. I don't get it. What would that little coven of locals do? Take up a collection from their friends and neighbors in Fallujah or Basra and catch a plane to America? I think not. Their coach, on the other hand, the real terrorist who put them up to what they are doing, he might do just that. But when the American artillery opened up, it would not be him in the sights, any more than it is now. It would be the hapless pawns he convinced to do his work.

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