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Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

Really?!

Apparently now it’s President Obama’s fault that there wasn’t an “orderly transition” in Iraq??? Or, so says the GOP.  Never mind that the first few orders given by Paul Bremer after the fall of Baghdad in 2003 virtually guaranteed the instability that resulted.  Let us not forget that Bremer totally disbanded the existing political and security institutions.  He fired the entire bureaucracy, making certain that all knowledge of how things worked disappeared.  And he disbanded the entire military and police forces, putting thousands of trained people out of work.  And we were surprised that an insurgency developed???

You can spin history all you want, but you can’t change the facts.  Epic FAIL!

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So What?

There was an astounding exchange during W’s recent interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz.

BUSH:  One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq.  This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand.  This where al Qaeda was hoping to take…

RADDATZ:  But not until after the U.S. invaded.

BUSH:  Yeah, that’s right.  So what? The point is that al Qaeda said they’re going to take a stand.  Well, first of all in the post-9/11 environment Saddam Hussein posed a threat.  And then upon removal, al Qaeda decides to take a stand.

It’s now official.  The man is as delusional as Illinois Governor Blagojevich!  This is so stunning a statement that it’s hard to know where to start.

First, the arrogance.  Or ignorance.  Or maybe both — could it really be that he’s proud to be so totally clueless???

Second, the statement totally puts a lie to the facts.  We now know that the Bush administration was looking for an excuse to topple Saddam Hussein even before 9/11.  Bush and his neocon cronies began to plan for such an action almost as soon as he took office.  And following the attacks, they were eager to find a connection to Iraq that would justify their plans — whether such a connection actually existed or not.  Could it be that Bush’s reality exists only in his mind???

Third, the rise of an insurgency shouldn’t have surprised anybody.  Post-invasion planning was almost non-existent.  So, once Saddam was toppled, a power vacuum existed.  Just who the hell did Bush figure would fill that vacuum?  Let’s see… there were all the criminals that Saddam had released from prison in the run-up to the invasion.  And there was the Iraqi army and bureaucracy that Grand Poobah Bremmer fired as his first two acts.  And then there were all the ordinary Iraqis whose sense of honor and national pride was battered by the invasion.  And, finally, Rumsfeld and his cohorts thought they knew better than the US military leaders about the number of troops that would be needed, and the neocons wanted to believe that we’d be welcomed with roses.  Hmmmm…. so, is it really any surprise that an insurgency developed?  Not to most people who were paying attention to the facts beyond the official pronouncements or just using common sense.

After all, if our country were invaded and our political leadership toppled, our military and bureaucracy toppled, the Smithsonian looted, would we have been tossing flowers at the feet of the invading military?  I think not. Rather, I think we’d be doing everything in our individual power to thwart the plans of the invaders.

Given all this, the disconnect between Bush’s response and that of the Arab street to the shoe-tossing is also far more understandable.  Bush laughs it off — another “so what” moment I suppose.  Whether he understood the depth of the insult that came flying with those size 10s is questionable, given that he seems totally oblivious to criticism from any quarter.  The Arab world, on the other hand, have had more than enough of the man and his policies.  These latest incidents only serve to confirm what they’ve realized for some time.  The tragedy is that rather than trying to tamp down the hatred, his every pronouncement serves only to ratchet it up further.  And when the blowback occurs, too many Americans will wonder why…

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It would seem that at least one Iraqi journalist has had enough.  He took off his shoes and threw them at President Bush at a news conference held during a surprise “victory tour” visit to Iraq.  It seems that the journalist had lost members of his family to the war, had been kidnapped at one point, had spend considerable time reporting on the violence in Sadr City.  Journalists who know the individual say that he just snapped.  Were he an American serviceman, he might well have been diagnosed with PTSD.  But the act of throwing shoes at the American President and, as the Secret Service wrestled him to the ground and hustled him away, calling out, “You dog!” needs to be viewed through the lens of Middle Eastern values and cultural mores.

Remember the images of Iraqis beating the downed statue of Saddam Hussein with their shoes?  Well, in Arab culture showing the soles of your feet to another is is considered extremely bad form.  Watch carefully, and you’ll not see Arab leaders sitting with their legs crossed in such a way as to expose the soles of their shoes to others.  We read body language as positive if western leaders are pictured with their legs crossed toward each other.  Not so in the cultures of the Middle East.  Even in photos of Bedouins sitting in their traditional tents, it’s extremely rare to see the soles of their feet or sandals. So, for an Iraqi journalist to throw shoes at the current American President is an insult of the highest order.  Furthermore, dogs are viewed as unclean animals, not as members of the family, so to call another a dog is also highly insulting.

Some years ago, I had the privilege of hearing a Christian minister of Middle Eastern origin discuss the New Testament parables from an Arab cultural perspective.  He spent considerable time discussing the parable of the prodigal son, pointing out details that would have been meaningful to those hearing it at the time and that we who are not schooled in Middle East culture miss entirely.  And what depth those details add!  One detail that relates to today’s incident in Baghdad comes in the description of the father as he goes out to meet his returning son.  He doesn’t walk sedately, as befits a man of some social stature within a traditional community.  No, he runs to meet his son, his robe flapping about his ankles.  And not only does he expose his ankles, but he throws all custom and mores to the wind in his eagerness and allows the soles of his feet to show as he runs.  What a powerful demonstration of unconditional love!

I cannot help but wonder at how much else we miss by not understanding other cultures and the various nuances that are part and parcel of the myriad ways in which we communicate.  It’s said that well over half of all communication is done without benefit of words — written or spoken.  Some cultures use gestures far more often when speaking.  Eye position is also culturally determined — eye contact can convey a degree of intimacy that is inappropriate beyond close relatives. If you happened to see the interview of Fareed Zakaria interviewing Queen Rania of Jordan, you might have noticed that she looked at him briefly at the beginning of each response, then looked away.  I was aware that the “personal space” bubble is smaller among Arabs than it is among Americans, and that one finds Arab acquaintances standing closer together in conversation than do most Americans.

I recall an occasion when I was chatting with a young Lebanese man while I was in grad school.  I became aware that we were in constant motion — me backing away a step as he came closer so that an observer might have described our motions as a sort of dance.  Realizing that two different sized personal space bubbles were colliding, I decided to stand my ground.  My sense of discomfort was intense, and this was a person that I found very likeable and with whom I’d had many long conversations sitting in the cafeteria over coffee!  As our conversation continued, my discomfort eased, largely because I was aware of what was causing it.  I don’t know if he was aware either of our “dance” or of the fact that I had chosen to accommodate to his comfort level initially at the cost of my own.  But I can’t help but think that if my awareness and decision allowed us to continue our conversation, being aware of cultural nuances and making accommodations to them would facilitate communication between our nation and others.

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If you’ve read my “About” page, you’ll know that I don’t think “they hate us for our freedoms.”  Rather, I think they hate our foreign policy decisions over the years.  So, if that’s the case, why India?  And why did the attackers seek out Jews and British and American citizens?

Early reports identify the attackers as Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.  Beginning in the 14th century C.E., India was the central point of the Islamic Mogol (Mughal) Empire.  Pakistan and Bangladesh were part of India at one time.  They are predominantly Muslim, which is why they separated from India.  Over the years, the region of Kashmir, which covers an area in northern India and northeastern Pakistan, adjacent to China, has been a point of contention between India and Pakistan.  Periodically, tensions boil over into armed conflict.  This may well have been one of the reasons for the Mumbai attack. 

Interestingly, while we were away for Thanksgiving, I began reading Chalmers Johnson’s Blowback.  Most Americans are blissfully unaware of the fact that we are an Empire, that we have had imperial aspirations going back more than a century, but that those aspirations have blossomed in the years after World War II.  Johnson takes his title from a term that had its origins in CIA machinations.  It refers to those unintended consequences of actions and decisions taken in support of our imperial ambitions.  Put simply, actions have consequences.  Others have refered to the same concept as, “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” 

Back when most Americans were crying for revenge in the guise of justice after the attacks of September 11, I worried that we wouldn’t even bother asking the difficult question of whether we (our government and its policies) might have provoked the attack.  I knew that the continuing Palestinian-Israeli conflict was a cause of great concern throughout the Middle East and that the United States was seen as part of the problem.  Many Arab politicians have said that tensions throughout the region would diminish significantly with the resolution of that conflict.

Our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, our military bases throughout the world, and the inevitable conflicts between US troops and the citizens of the countries where those bases are located all contribute to a build-up of resentment. And, especially for people for whom personal honor is such a highly-prized value, this wellspring of resentment is bound to find its expression in violence.

But why Brits?  Not only was Britain the colonial master of India (and the lands now known as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Kashmir), she has been a participant in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as an American ally.  Furthermore, Britain also controlled both Iraq and Palestine, as well as Jordan, India, Pakistan, Kashmir, and Bangladesh during the period between the two world wars.

As I continue with the Middle East tutorial, the areas of conflict and the reasons behind them will become more clear.  One aspect of the Middle Eastern/Islamic ethos that continues to plague both them and ourselves is a profound and well-deserved sense of pride at the civilization they created and a sense that their greatness is part of their past rather than part of their future.  Their own empire decayed, as all empires do, as the power of the United States grew.

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