Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Letter to Congress from Abu Khaleel

Dspite the horrible circumstances that separate our two countries I have been able to make the acquaintance of one Iraqi gentleman by way of the internet. His screen name is Abu Khaleel, but as the author of his book, Glimpse of Iraq, he is Ibrahim Al-Shawi. His achievements in life and station in the tattered remnants of Iraqi society far exceed mine here in America, but at some level I consider him a peer. Thanks to having spent nine years in England in the seventies his command of the language is perfect, but because his roots and commitments are in Iraq, he is as much a patriot of that country as can be found.

Recently he has been formulating plans to donate about 185 acres of farm land he owns for the benefit of local people in the immediate area. His vision is to have there a clinic which might at some future date be the start of a hospital, a school to replace the one which has been destroyed by the war, a water purification plant, an electric generator and a place for local people to convene for business purposes, probably retailing their own farm products. In my imagination I see something like a big flea market eventually becoming a small town.

His vision is pro-active, peaceful and completely uncontroversial. If he had not already identified himself as Muslim I would think of him as Christian. This is from an email last year.

I am more of a spiritual person than a religious one. I am a Muslim in name but not a practicing one. My wife is more or less the same but she turns "devout" during the fasting month of Ramadan!

In the countryside (where I spend much time) I am regarded as a liberal. In Baghdad, I am regarded as conservative by friends and acquaintances. In America, I guess I would not fit anywhere in their red-blue map… I think I would look like a weird mixture of left and right.

Anyone who reads my blog knows how well those words resonate will with me. I can see no downside to supporting such a man and will do anything possible to rebuild his country and promote his cause. As an American citizen I can do no less. Everywhere I turn I run into cautious, defensive, reactive thinking and blaming. Everyone wants to define problems but no one seems big enough to take ownership of having caused those problems. I, for one, feel deeply embarrassed and, yes, ashamed as a citizen, that the last two or three years of what must be called plainly a military occupation of Iraq by the US has resulted in so much death and destruction.

As someone who always believes that wars are to be avoided, I am sensible enough to admit that there were good arguments that the Afghanistan adventure. I am also even willing to admit that the invasion of Iraq and removal of Saddam was at some level understandable. But in retrospect it is clear that the post invasion plan (or lack of any coherent Plan B) has been a spectacular and bloody failure. For two years now we have been fighting smoke with water and every indication is that Iraq is more a breeding ground for terrorists in any "global war on terrorism" than a place to reduce their number.

Abu Khaleel has composed a compelling form letter with the aim of influencing Congress and public opinion. Last week's election was as much about the American public's disapproval of the war in Iraq as anything else. Now is the moment, a "tipping point" to use the current buzzword, when a positive new direction might be found. To that end I commend this letter and its arguments for public debate. Foreign policies are officially determined and executed by the Executive branch, but in order to be successful must also enjoy the support of enough ordinary people to fund and complete the execution of those policies. The purpose of this letter is to put real meaning into American foreign policy viv a vis Iraq.
Arguments of good intentions are refuted by facts on the ground and by results. Even if the forces now devastating Iraq were not intentionally created by the US intervention, an environment was created by that intervention that was extremely favorable for those forces to thrive and become more powerful.

America is therefore responsible for the current failed state of Iraq. The realization and admission of this responsibility is an important prerequisite for any progress towards any solution. Only then can steps be taken to rectify the situation.

I realize that the foreign policy of the US is mostly the domain of the Administration and that it is influenced by several major forces from within and from outside the Establishment. I also realize the difficulty any decent American politician faces and the various forces at play that have to be considered: human aspects, economic issues including the security of oil supplies, immediate and long term security concerns as well as the pressures that can exerted by special-interest groups. I realize all that.

Within Iraq too, the array of forces present is truly astounding: in addition to patriotic or nationalistic forces, the forces of sectarianism, corruption, decay, crime and violence are predominant. Regional countries are pouring funds to allies and cronies.

The solution to all these problems cannot be easy. At present, I can see no painless solution to the 'Iraqi problem'. Whichever direction I turn, I can only see rivers of blood, instability and destruction. This is the present dilemma. There is no easy solution. Yet, a start can be made.
He summarizes various options that can be considered, none of which is pretty, but all of which involve taking away the US presence which seems to be creating more problems than solutions. Bitter pill though it may be, he concludes with the most disagreeable option of all. He doesn't use the term, but what he is referring to is essentially a civil war. It could be that those of us who grew up in the American South view civil war as a less disagreeable, perhaps even more honorable option than occupation by some foreign power.
With the passing of the last widows of that terrible era from our own past we have had a couple of generations to forget how bloody and damaging that war was on our own body politic. Indeed the Civil Rights struggles of our own time are a direct legacy of the unfinished business of slavery itself. And today there are still some who argue that the real causes of the American Civil War were economic, not social. (True argument, if you think of employees as depreciable assets instead of human resources. I have seen and worked with people who think in such terms even now.)
Read this letter thoughtfully and take from it whatever you may. Know that it is not a piece of manipulative propoganda with a hidden agenda. It is just what it represents itself to be: the words of a sincere Iraqi patriot who wants only the best for his country.

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