Sunday, January 28, 2007

Embiggening the Enemy

or, How Dare You Stop Clapping for Tinkerbelle?

Joe Lieberman:

LIEBERMAN: I fear that while this resolution is non-binding and, therefore, will not affect the implementation of the plan, it will do two things that can be harmful, which is that it will discourage our troops, who we’re asking to carry out this new plan, and it will encourage the enemy, because as General Petraeus said to our committee, war is a test of wills, and you don’t want your enemy to be given any hope.


BROWNBACK: I don’t — I don’t see this enemy as needing any more emboldening or getting it from any resolution. They’re emboldened now. I was there two weeks ago in Iraq. I was in Baghdad. I was in northern Iraq. This is a very aggressive situation. You have sectarian violence of Sunni and Shia. I was in the Kurdish area. They were talking about we have to get the Sunni and Shia together. I talked with the head of the Kurdish group. He said he wouldn’t vote for more troops because you have to first force the Sunni and Shia to sit down and talk about a political accommodation and that’s not happening.
Joe Biden:

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman on Sunday dismissed criticism that a resolution opposing a troop buildup in Iraq would embolden the enemy and estimated perhaps only 20 senators believe President Bush "is headed in the right direction."

"It's not the American people or the U.S. Congress who are emboldening the enemy," said Democratic Sen. Joe Biden, a White House hopeful in 2008. "It's the failed policy of this president — going to war without a strategy, going to war prematurely."
Although I have to point out the McGovern landslide fear in "prematurus belli." I'm not sure there is such a thing as "going to war prematurely." Biden, as one of the Senate leaders from before 11/7, just can't bring himself to say that war is wrong, or just say this war was wrong. Interestingly, Sen. Chuck Hagel can, and all Biden can do is observe:

That intensity was on display last Wednesday as he sat and stewed at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The panel was considering a resolution condemning President Bush's proposal to send 21,000 additional troops to Iraq; Hagel, a cosponsor of the resolution, would be the only Republican on the committee to vote for its passage. As he listened to his colleagues make their cases for and against the president's plan, Hagel told NEWSWEEK he noticed something missing: an acknowledgment that the Senate was talking about committing real troops, the men and women whose "fighting and dying" make a war. He had no prepared text but the words came easily as he took his turn at the mike. Calling Iraq the country's most divisive issue since Vietnam, he dared his fellow committee members to take a stand. "I think all 100 senators ought to be on the line on this," he said. "If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes." For a moment, his colleagues were silent and stunned. Later that afternoon, Joe Biden, the committee's Democratic chairman, complimented him on his performance. "I've rarely seen such a powerful connection between the heart and the mind," Biden said. "That was deep in you."
But then, Hagel has always been against the war. Which solidifies my theory: that those who opposed this war before 11/7, or who have come into power since that election, are the leading edge of American policy, and have the support of the American people. Because only those who can only hear the electoral footsteps of 1972 coming up behind them, or who are true believers in violence, continue to cling to the idea that this is what we had in mind all the time:

Never having covered a civil war before, I learned about it together with my Iraqi friends. It is a bit like watching a slow-motion train wreck. Broken bodies fly past. Faces freeze in one’s memory in the moments before impact. Passengers grab handles and doorframes that simply tear off or uselessly collapse.

I learned how much violence changes people, and how trust is chipped away, leaving society a thin layer of moth-eaten fabric that tears easily. It has unraveled so quickly. A year ago, my interviews were peppered with phrases like “Iraqis are all brothers.” The subjects would get angry when you asked their sect. Now some of them introduce themselves that way.

I met Raad Jassim, a 38-year-old Shiite refugee, in a largely empty house, recently owned by Sunnis, where he now lives in western Baghdad. He moved there in the fall, after Sunni militants killed his brother and his nephew and confiscated his large chicken farm north of Baghdad. He had lived with Sunnis his whole life, but after what happened, a hatred spread through him like a disease.

“The word Sunni, it hurts me,” he said, sitting on the floor in a bare room, his 7-year-old boy on his lap. “All that I have lost came from this word. I try to avoid mixing with them.”

“A volcano of revenge” has built up inside him, he said. “I want to rip them up with my teeth.”

In another measure of just how much things have changed, Mr. Jassim’s Shiite neighborhood is relatively safe. The area is now largely free of Sunnis, after Shiite militias swept it last year, and it runs smoothly on a complex network of relationships among the local militias, the police and a powerful local council. His street is dotted with fruit stands. Boys in uniforms roughhouse. Men sit in teahouses sipping from tiny glass cups.

Just to the south, the Sunni neighborhood of Dawoodi is ghostly at almost any time of day. Wide boulevards trimmed with palm trees used to connect luxury homes. Now giant piles of trash go uncollected in the median.

A serious problem is dead bodies. They began to appear several times a week last summer on the railroad tracks that run through the neighborhood. But when residents call the police to pick up the bodies, they do not come. The police are Shiite and afraid of the area.

“Entering a Sunni area for them is a risk,” said Yasir, a 40-year-old Sunni whose house is close to the dumping ground.
Ms. Tavernise goes on to point out that: "A great many Shiites and Kurds, who together make up 80 percent of the population, will tell you that in spite of all the mistakes the Americans have made here, the single act of removing Saddam Hussein was worth it." I suppose if we exclude from that equation the dead Americans, both military and civilian, that calculation can somehow be made. It seems a brute calculus indeed, and an odd measure of the lives of Americans: our soldiers were the necessary sacrifice for the sake of the sects of Iraq. I barely understand "Jesus died for your sins." I can't understand at all "American soldiers died for your...." What? Freedom? Anarchy? This?:

The moderates are mostly gone. My phone includes at least a dozen entries for middle-class families who have given up and moved away. They were supposed to build democracy here. Instead they work odd jobs in Syria and Jordan. Even the moderate political leaders have left. I have three numbers for Adnan Pachachi, the distinguished Iraqi statesman; none have Iraqi country codes.
It simply doesn't wash. Especially when she speaks of what is really going on now:

The frank remark spoke of a new power balance, in which radicals rule and moderates have no voice. For many families I have become attached to here, the country is no longer recognizable.

I met Haifa and her husband, Hassan, both teachers, in a driveway in western Baghdad. They had just found the body of their 12-year-old son, who had been kidnapped and brutally killed, and were frantic with grief. They finally decided to leave Iraq, but its violence tormented them to the end. They paid a man to drive them to Jordan, but he was working with Sunni militants in western Iraq, and pointed out Hassan, a Shiite, to a Sunni gang that stopped the car. Over the next several hours, Haifa waved a tiny Koran at men in masks, pleading for her husband’s release, her two remaining children in tow.

Hassan, meanwhile, knelt in a small room, his hands behind his back. His captors shot a man next to him in the neck. Haifa, a Sunni, eventually prevailed on them to let him go. The family returned to Baghdad, then borrowed money to fly to Jordan.

Now they live there, in a tiny basement apartment without windows in a white stone housing project on the side of a hill. Like many Iraqis there, they live in hiding. Residency permits cost $100,000, far beyond their means. Hassan cannot work, nor even risk leaving the house during the day for fear the Jordanian police will deport him.

He tries not to talk to people, afraid someone will recognize his Iraqi accent. He doesn’t bargain in the vegetable market. He accepts mean remarks by Jordanian cabdrivers wordlessly.

Most of all, he wants to go home. “But death is waiting for us there,” he tells me. “We are homeless. Please help us.”
Averring that it will somehow, someday, all be worth it, is a frank example of hope over reality, and of the living over the dead. Tolstoy noted in "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" how all of Ivan's friends, upon learning of his demise in the publish obituary, all stopped for a moment and thought to themselves: "At least it isn't me." That's a very human reaction to another's death; but it's not at all a noble one. John Donne taught us the proper Christian response to death: "Therefore do no send to ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." And so we still mourn the dead, as Christians, even as we proclaim the resurrection and eternal life. To say violence is ever "worth it"? Hmmmmm....a claim only the living can make.

Do we embolden the enemy by facing reality? Or do we embolden them by continuing to make foolish sacrifices of other mother's children? Somebody want to ask Cindy Sheehan or the other Gold Star Mothers their opinions? Or are they unimportant because they are not Washington power brokers? Why do those who have no dead to mourn get preferment over the mourners? Because mourning is so emotional, and reason is superior to feeling? Or because real men know how to handle these problems, and the mocking of weakness that begins on the playground is never finally put aside from male thinking?

Embiggening the enemy? No. Diminishing ourselves. To the size of children; children afraid of being called names.

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