The Curse of Freedom
Two articles on Iraq. One from Omar at Iraq the Model. The other from Michael Yon. Omar describes the effect that the War on Terror is having on the Arab consciousness, based on an extensive monitoring of online forums. He thinks that, apart from the horrors which makes the front pages, it has also been a vast learning experience which has enabled many thoughtful Arabs to distinguish between terrorism and fighting for their country. Michael Yon, for his part, is upbeat about Iraq and less upbeat about Afghanistan for the reason rooted in precisely what Omar mentions: the relative development of consciousness in both regions.
Omar at ITM says:
The reactions I gathered were posted on an Arabic forum on the BBC Arabic website. About three dozens of comments were made by Iraqis both inside Iraq and in exile and all these comments were supportive of Israel or at least against Hamas as far as the topic is concerned except for only three comments; that's a 10:1 ratio while as you probably have guesses, the opposite ratio is true about the comments by the rest of Arabs. These comments and some of the non-Iraqi Arab reactions they stimulated caught my attention. In fact Mohammed and I spent an entire day reading through the 500+ comments in that thread and thought we could share some of the best and most interesting stuff with you. ...
Perhaps our problem is that we in Iraq are evolving politically faster than we are doing when it comes to economy, security, etc. that we are even ahead of countries like Egypt or Kuwait in holding real elections and having a permanent constitution and fair representation of all the segments of the people. Of course this lag between political and material progress will bring on difficulties and challenges but at the same time what cannot be denied is the impressive evolution in awareness considering the short time elapsed since we got our freedom back.
But what really makes me feel optimistic about this new Iraqi way of thinking is that it shows how Iraqis are beginning to distinguish between terrorism and rightful acts of resistance not only in Iraq but also on a global level and are showing decreasing tolerance for extremism and this in my opinion is what builds peace in the region or any given region of this world.
He is not asserting that Iraqis have suddenly become uncritical admirers of America, but that as perhaps one of the only countries in the Middle East which is building its own future, its citizens have had to make reflective choices about the nature of responsibility; when and when not to use violence; and to distinguish between lawful combat and unbridled savagery. They've discovered that the Other is neither wholly devil nor angel; and that they themselves are neither.
Michael Yon, in There Be Dragons on July 6 makes a counterintuitive observation: Iraq is a more hopeful place than Afghanistan. And to understand this, you have to look to the people and not to the land.
From the ground in Iraq, my perception over time was that the Coalition and Iraqis were committed to their mission and making tremendous progress, despite ongoing violence. I believe Iraq will become a success. We went there with too few troops and an imprecise plan to maintain the peace, errors that a smart and determined enemy exploited fully. Despite delays and setbacks, there is a new government in place, democratically elected by Iraqis whose staggering turn-out numbers testify to their commitment to the process. The Iraqi Security Forces are increasingly competent, a learning curve I witnessed first hand. A first dispatch about the ISF was titled “Please Don’t Shoot Us,” but ten months later, I was writing about raids the US Army conducted using intelligence developed by the ISF. The fact that a US Army general recently invited me back to Iraq to see the situation is indicative of Army confidence that the progress is ongoing and substantial. By now the military knows what readers sometimes chide me about: if invited to a mess, I will report the mess.
My foray into Afghanistan was less positive. In fact, when I contacted the Army Public Affairs in Afghanistan, there was no response. Iraq is not a quagmire and might be a good ally some day, but Afghanistan is a stone-aged disaster. The Iraqis tend to value education, while Afghans value inertia, and while the progress in Iraq is rapid, obvious and palpable, Afghanistan is mostly a lawless giant hunting lodge where our Special Operations people stalk terrorists, but it’s like a managed preserve insuring that the hunters never run out of game — in this case, game that hunts back.
Like all judgments, both Omar's and Michael Yon's will be subject to modification depending on events. But their key argument is interesting. That campaigns must be judged by whether they alter conciousness. If nations can never be built for indigenes by others, then to the extent that Iraqis are able to self-organize, albeit often for destructive ends, they are constructing a future for themselves, which (or so Omar hopes) will eventually be rational and intelligent. The matter is altogether different when a country is left is a time warp of ritual hatred, with prescriptive resentments providing an easy escape from action. Rich Lowery, writing from Israel, bemoans the absence of this special consciousness in describing the state of Gaza in its current crisis with Israel. If Iraq is on a blood-bespattered but upward learning curve, and Afghanistan is a stone-age battleground in which cycles and eons are the measure of time, Gaza is the playground of fantasy. Here time has stopped in the way that is only possible within an asylum.
The cleanest solution is for the Palestinians to reform themselves. In this sense, Palestinian politics still very much matters to Israelis. “The question now is whether the Palestinians have the inclination and the capacity to build a state,” says Israeli elder statesman Shimon Peres.
Roughly speaking, Palestinian politics is dominated by terrorists — as represented by Hamas — and corrupt terrorist-enabling incompetents — as represented by Fatah, the late Yasser Arafat’s organization. Pity the Palestinians if Fatah is their best hope for rational government. Former Arafat negotiator and elected Fatah representative Saeb Erekat admits that Fatah needs to reform. “We’re not doing it,” he says, “and have no excuse for not doing it — I don’t feel like lying today.”
Something of a model for a way forward is southern Lebanon, where Hezbollah dominates and has a significant rocket capability that it handles with restraint. Like Hamas, Hezbollah is a terrorist organization with a role in government, but Israel has managed to establish a somewhat stable deterrent relationship with it. Hezbollah knows that if it goes too far, Israel will hit back hard.
Perhaps it will be possible to establish a similar deterrent relationship with Hamas. One senior Israeli security source says, for now, that means forcing Hamas “to choose between their regime and their terror.” It might be that Hamas can never be made to moderate its behavior. And still looming is yet another crisis — the approach of a nuclear-armed Iran, whose deterability Israel obviously can’t determine with trial and error.
It says something about Hamas when its enemies hope it can rise to the standard of the Hezbollah. Like asking Jeffrey Dahmer why he couldn't be more like Ted Bundy. But it says even more about the need to empower people in the thrall of murderous delusions. An empowerment which, for whatever reason, never occurred in Gaza; sixty years of UN refugee camps notwithstanding. Not humanity and democracy all packaged up. That might be demanding too much. But some way the ideas themselves can be left on the ground for people to pick up and embrace as their own.