Wed Dec 20, 2006 at 12:50:15 PM PST
Sometimes life and the people in kind of slap you back to reality. I had just such an occurrence this past weekend, and truthfully, it has caused me a great deal of distress. This is a real distress - the kind that sometimes makes me stop and feel slightly sick as a human being - over the subject I'm going to discuss.
But I have to share this story. It begins like this: I have a friend who is Iraqi.
I have to be careful about my friend's identity, so some of the contextual (but not necessary) details are going to be vague. It won't be a great story without all the color and background, but it will be a true one.
My friend is Iraqi born and married an Iraqi. I don't know how it happened, but wife is already an American citizen. He is not, though he has told me that he has applied for citizenship and that he doesn't anticipate there will be any issues - it's all a matter of time at this point. They are both professional people - not professional like brain surgeons, but professionals, skilled in what they do.
As with all friendships, getting to know someone entails some mixture of chit chat and polite inquries - you know the kind. You ask if they have children. You ask what they do for a living and whether or not they like it. When you hear them speaking with an accent, you ask where that accent is from. When they tell you they are from Iraq, in light of everything that's going on there, you launch into a new level of questions.
It was those types of questions that let me know him a little better. Some months ago I asked about his family. He has siblings, and all have left Iraq proper for other, safer areas in the middle east. His mother, however, remained in Iraq. At the time, this wasn't a huge issue as she was further to the north in areas that would have been considered, at that time, relatively "safe". All of these details came out very early in my getting to know him. I didn't want to inundate him with sensitive questions about how he felt about the war, and he seemed happy to keep the friendship on the level where it existed.
As life goes, sometimes you just get busy. You have your friends, but you don't necessarily see your friends as much as you would like. It happens - and it happened with my Iraqi friend. Some months went by where we just didn't connect. During those months, the situation in Iraq deteriorated rapidly. The theoretically "safe" northern areas were no longer safe. I thought of my friend and especially of his mother frequently, and wondered how she was doing and whether or not she was safe.
Well, I bumped into him over this past weekend. I went up and shook his hand and let him know I had been thinking about him, and especially about his mother. I told him I wondered often about her safety. He relieved some of these thoughts by letting me know that his mother was not currently in Iraq. She had gone a month or so ago to visit relatives in another country in the region, one that would be considered stable. He was worried, though - it was her intent to return to Iraq, her home, very soon. He wondered aloud if he could get her to come for an extended visit here in the United States... While he was composed, he was also certainly concerned.
Then our friendship took another informational step forward. He let me know that his wife has family, close family, currently in Baghdad. They have been hastily and desperately trying to figure a way to get one family member in particular into the US, sooner rather than later. They had consulted a lawyer who laid out the process at a very high level, but had had to undertake the process on their own due to the prohibitive cost of legal assistance. My friend and his wife are hardworking people, but not the kind with several thousand dollars sitting around idle and unutilized.
This started us on a discussion of the war itself. I'm going to paraphrase the conversation to give you a sense of how it went. I'll call him Joe for the sake of ease, and I'll share that he is Sunni:
ME: Jeez, Joe. I can't believe how badly this has gone. It wasn't a good idea even before we went in there, but now - it's unraveling. I don't think America will see it's good reputation returned in my lifetime. And even though I was against going into Iraq in the first place, I'm an American and to some degree, this has happened in my name.
JOE: You know, a lot of people said many things. They said that Saddam was bad and he was. They went to your Pentagon and they told them 'just go in there and get rid of Saddam'. And your Pentagon, your Rumsfeld, that's what he did. And then Bremmer told your Pentagon to get rid of the Army and the police and the government and that's what he did. And it was not a good thing - not a good idea.
ME: ((sighing)) I know. Ahmed Chalabi, right? [Joe nods] You know, you would think that the American government would have considered the source of all of the information they had. I mean, if they have a guy who's there telling them to 'just get rid of Saddam', that guy has something that he wants. He could be a true nationalist with pure intentions, or he could be politically motivated and trying to seize power. Either way, you'd think they would have stepped back and considered what this guy or anyone else wanted and weigh the information they got against any likely motivations.
JOE: My family in Baghdad - it's bad. They can't go out and go to get food. We call and they are in their house because they can't go out. They have separated Baghdad and put Sunnis in one area and Shi'ia in another. And they have people there to keep them apart. But now with your report, they are going to leave and the Shi'ia are going to come over there. I talked to one family member and he told me 'they are going to kill us when the Americans leave'. They don't want electricity and food and jobs anymore. They just want to be safe. It's the only thing they want. And now the Americans are going to leave.
They just want to be safe. After the conversation, I let myself think about the sheer gravity of that kind of a statement. How emotionally and physically broken do you have to be to be willing to give up everything else for want of safety? I can't really imagine it - I can try, but I can't put myself in his family's shoes. It's very bad, though.
Yesterday, as I was driving to the DC area Kossack Meetup, I heard John Murtha interviewed on CNN's Situation Room. Here are a few excerpts from that interview:
BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for coming in. What do you make of this idea of having a short-term surge, as they're calling it, 20- 30,000 U.S. troops deployed to the Baghdad area to try to bring some sort of stability there?
REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, Wolf, let's look at the results of what happened. They put 10,000 more troops into the area. They've increased significantly troops in the Baghdad area and it's gotten worse.
The incidents, attacks, I call them, have increased, have doubled. They're up 973 a week now. More Iraqis being killed. More security people being killed. More Americans being killed.
BLITZER: The new defense secretary, Robert Gates, said yesterday that failure in Iraq, in his words, "would be a calamity."
Here's the question to you. Has the U.S. already lost in Iraq?
MURTHA: Militarily, we've lost. There's no question about it. We cannot win this militarily.
MURTHA: Only the Iraqis can do this. There is in way the United States can solve this problem. We have gotten so far out and we missed our opportunity, if we ever had an opportunity early on, to stabilize Iraq.
Since we didn't do it then, it cannot be done now. I am convinced the best thing for the United States, the best American policy, what's in the best interest of America, and that's to get our troops redeployed out of there.
I have to say that I agree with everything John Murtha said. Yet at the end of the day, to simply pack up and go home means that my friend's in-laws get slaughtered. Literally slaughtered. Whatever tiny semblance of control there is in Baghdad exists at the end of an American rifle. No more Americans, and those people are GONE. How will I look him in the eye, what will I say, when he finally tells me that his wife has utterly lost her family?
Yet at the same time, I feel and have felt strongly that we need to get out of there, not just for the sake of our soldiers, but for the sake of our larger efforts to combat terrorism.
I wish I had answers. I wish I didn't feel so horribly torn in two directions at once. At the end of the day, I blame the Bush administration. Because, as we all know, had we not gone in there in the first place, I wouldn't be wrestling with these questions. And, having decided to go in, had we done so with some semblance of competence, I MAY not be wrestling with these questions.
But that's a hard thing to sell to my Iraqi friend. Because even today, he's sitting in his office worrying about hearing, finally and at last, that his family has fallen victim to the violence. What good will my regrets do him then?