Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Two Op-Ed Pieces

I'm doing copy and paste here...just for the file.
Two good pieces in the afterglow of the Iraq elections. We have just experienced a turning point in history not unlike the falling of the Berlin Wall. Ther is no way to peer into the future, but just as signs of the times...

What if Bush has been right about Iraq all along?


Maybe you're like me and have opposed the Iraq war since before the shooting started -- not to the point of joining any peace protests, but at least letting people know where you stood.
You didn't change your mind when our troops swept quickly into Baghdad or when you saw the rabble that celebrated the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue, figuring that little had been accomplished and that the tough job still lay ahead.
Despite your misgivings, you didn't demand the troops be brought home immediately afterward, believing the United States must at least try to finish what it started to avoid even greater bloodshed. And while you cheered Saddam's capture, you couldn't help but thinking I-told-you-so in the months that followed as the violence continued to spread and the death toll mounted.

By now, you might have even voted against George Bush -- a second time -- to register your disapproval.
But after watching Sunday's election in Iraq and seeing the first clear sign that freedom really may mean something to the Iraqi people, you have to be asking yourself: What if it turns out Bush was right, and we were wrong?
It's hard to swallow, isn't it?
Americans cross own barrier
If you fit the previously stated profile, I know you're fighting the idea, because I am, too. And if you were with the president from the start, I've already got your blood boiling.
For those who've been in the same boat with me, we don't need to concede the point just yet. There's a long way to go. But I think we have to face the possibility.
I won't say that it had never occurred to me previously, but it's never gone through my mind as strongly as when I watched the television coverage from Iraq that showed long lines of people risking their lives by turning out to vote, honest looks of joy on so many of their faces.
Some CNN guest expert was opining Monday that the Iraqi people crossed a psychological barrier by voting and getting a taste of free choice (setting aside the argument that they only did so under orders from their religious leaders).
I think it's possible that some of the American people will have crossed a psychological barrier as well.

Deciding democracy's worth

On the other side of that barrier is a concept some of us have had a hard time swallowing:
Maybe the United States really can establish a peaceable democratic government in Iraq, and if so, that would be worth something.
Would it be worth all the money we've spent? Certainly.
Would it be worth all the lives that have been lost? That's the more difficult question, and while I reserve judgment on that score until such a day arrives, it seems probable that history would answer yes to that as well.
I don't want to get carried away in the moment.
Going to war still sent so many terrible messages to the world.
Most of the obstacles to success in Iraq are all still there, the ones that have always led me to believe that we would eventually be forced to leave the country with our tail tucked between our legs. (I've maintained from the start that if you were impressed by the demonstrations in the streets of Baghdad when we arrived, wait until you see how they celebrate our departure, no matter the circumstances.)
In and of itself, the voting did nothing to end the violence. The forces trying to regain the power they have lost -- and the outside elements supporting them -- will be no less determined to disrupt our efforts and to drive us out.
Somebody still has to find a way to bring the Sunnis into the political process before the next round of elections at year's end. The Iraqi government still must develop the capacity to protect its people.
And there seems every possibility that this could yet end in civil war the day we leave or with Iraq becoming an Islamic state every bit as hostile to our national interests as was Saddam.

Penance could be required

But on Sunday, we caught a glimpse of the flip side. We could finally see signs that a majority of the Iraqi people perceive something to be gained from this brave new world we are forcing on them.
Instead of making the elections a further expression of "Yankee Go Home," their participation gave us hope that all those soldiers haven't died in vain.
Obviously, I'm still curious to see if Bush is willing to allow the Iraqis to install a government that is free to kick us out or to oppose our other foreign policy efforts in the region.
So is the rest of the world.
For now, though, I think we have to cut the president some slack about a timetable for his exit strategy.
If it turns out Bush was right all along, this is going to require some serious penance.
Maybe I'd have to vote Republican in 2008.

Uh, no, I have no intention of voting Republican. Not in 2008 or any other time I can think of. Strange things have occurrred in my life, but nothing as strange as that.
I copied the post, for the record, because I do feel mixed about what has happened in Iraq. War is a horrendous evil, but like floods, fires, revolutions and other wholesale upheavals, there are always identifiable silver linings. See my tagline.

And because the Times is one of those registration sites and because of that a lot of readers will never bother to read it, here is another piece from today's news...

Stepping Out of the Tar Pit


As I watched the images of Iraqis lining up to vote, even in the face of terrorists who threatened to wash the streets with blood, I couldn't help thinking of Whittaker Chambers.
Chambers broke with the Communist Party in 1938, testified against Alger Hiss in 1948, and then emerged as a melancholy but profound champion of freedom. Chambers once wrote a letter to William F. Buckley in which he explained that a former Communist has certain advantages in understanding the truly evil nature of his foe.
"I sometimes feel," he wrote, "that it takes a tainted mind to understand - to really understand - the threat of Communism. To really understand Communism is to have touched pitch: one's view of man is forever defiled. To understand Communism means to understand the terrible capacity of man for violence and treachery, an apprehension of which leaves one forever tainted."
André Malraux read Chambers's work and wrote to him, "You are one of those who did not return from hell with empty hands."
I thought of Chambers when I heard reporters in Iraq observe that beneath the joy and exhilaration that came with voting last Sunday, Iraqis showed something grimmer: a stern determination to not let evil triumph.
These Iraqis are people who, like Chambers, have spent their lives in hell and cannot have been unaffected by it. They have touched pitch and witnessed or participated in man's capacity for violence and treachery. They must be both damaged and toughened.
They lived most of their lives under the dense evil of Saddam's regime - the mass graves, the rape rooms, the chemical attacks, the wars against Iran. Totalitarian cruelty on that scale was bound to get into their heads.
As the U.S. toppled the Baath regime, the Iraqi writer Kanan Makiya wrote about one of his countrymen who had lost his brother and been imprisoned by Saddam. "Try to imagine the worst and still you will not come close to the physical pain this man has suffered. ... This is the human raw material you want to build democracy for."
And from the dense evil of Saddam, these people were thrust into the haphazard evil of the terrorists and the occupation. The Zarqawi terrorists commit murder in a mood of spiritual ecstasy, while the old Baathists feed their addiction to sadism and domination. These new monsters brought beheadings to the country, bombs in crowds of children and people with Down syndrome sent off to become unwitting suicide bombers.
And yet what we've witnessed in Iraq is a people's zigzag efforts to climb back from nihilism toward normalcy, from a universe in which the ballot is already filled out for you to a universe in which you make your own mark. This is not a small step.
When Saddam was first toppled, liberty turned immediately into anarchy. But as Michael Rubin, who has spent much of the past two years in Iraq, observed yesterday in The Wall Street Journal, gradually the habits of moderation have begun to develop - the habits of self-regulating liberty, compromise, tolerance and power-sharing.
And then came Sunday's act of mass heroism. On the Internet and in interviews, Iraqis tried to convey the tactile feel of their new migration to normalcy.
"Every person has realized that he's not fighting alone in this battle," one voter wrote. "I moved to mark my finger with ink. I dipped it deep as if I was poking the eyes of all the world's tyrants."
They proudly described liberating themselves, finally making themselves the initiators of their own lives.
The journey back from where these people have been is not a straight shot, which we can readily understand. In Washington, senators make facile arguments about improving the training of Iraqi troops, trying to reduce problems of motivation to problems of technique. Ted Kennedy gave a speech last week blithely insisting that the terrorists are winning the war for the hearts and minds of Iraqis. Brent Scowcroft warned of incipient civil war, denigrating the Iraqis' ability to manage their own tensions.
In fact, these are a people who voted at higher rates in the face of death than we do in the face of inconvenience. These are a people who have used the campaign as a process of therapy and self-education. These people have just built the most democratic government in the Arab world.
They will surely face more war and tension and corruption. But they did not return from hell with empty hands. They came back with their fingers stained with ink.

Update, the day after:

I'm not the only one who noticed. Check this out, via The Anchoress...

You may think that you have felt dumb before, but let me tell you something: until you have stood in front of a man who knows real pain and told him that you are against your country's alleviation of his country's state-sponsored murderous suffering, you have not felt truly, deeply, like a total f------ moron.

I still am no Bush fan, and I know that America got lied to. I know we shouldn't have gone, and I think Rove is as evil as they come. But through all this deception and lying, through all this dismemberment and pain, America has wrought a beautiful, fantastic side effect: joy, freedom and a hope for peace. Does it take lies and misdirection to do this?? Is this what the other side of justice is? I feel like such a whiner and I don't know what to think anymore. Ultimately, in total defiance of my mother and grandmother’s teachings, two wrongs have made a right and my moral compass is tired and busted.

This is one good example of why I deeply admire the Roman Catholic practice of Confession. Anglicans refer to it as "Reconciliation of a Penitent." Baptists, which is how I grew up, didn't teach any such thing. It's hard on one's pride and causes humility to feel too scratchy to wear very often. As a rule, I think most people could use a little more humility, just to stay in practice. Being right about something, unfortunately, works against humility.

Whenever I think about giving up the label "liberal" and falling in with current fashions to be "conservative," I remember the struggles of the sixties to end the Vietnam conflict, fight the spread of nuclear weapons, raise the awareness of people that governments can and do tell lies...the struggle to end the evils of segregation, the sit-ins, picket lines and "freedom rides," peaceful protests met with violence and threats of violence...
I feel old-fashioned and out of date. But we were right then. And some of us are right today. Just because war begets good results, it still does not make it either right or desirable. After all, even rape can result in the creation of a beautiful, innocent new life.

My own moral compass is also tired.
But it isn't busted.

No comments: