It is indeed heartbreaking to hear that, 3 years after our “mission [was] accomplished,” Iraqis and Americans are still being blown up, in a situation all sides agree is hopeless and helpless. Some cling to the notion that a U.S. presence is still doing some good and that a drawout or draw-down would be… “counterproductive.” I wonder whether this is true or not–and don’t pretend to know. But I do know two things: 1.) The president’s impulsive and thoughtless war still seems criminal and ought to be investigated not by cronies but by an independent body. 2.) In this age of ideas, no one in charge of the war seems to be trying anything new. And what we’re clinging to isn’t working.
Here in New York there is guffawing and sighing if the subway takes a little longer to come. Imagine your house getting hit by a cluster bomb, your uncle getting blinded by the explosion, your sister or brother being killed and buried under the rubble. The soldier who killed him is himself just a kid following orders who later on loses his right arm in an explosion and will have to spend the rest of his life on disability–until the cost of the war dries that up and he ends up in New York panhandling on Fifth Avenue.
Imagine a curfew that prevents you from leaving the house for three years, or having to coast in your beat up gas guzzling clunker at 10 miles an hour when you’re late for work, behind a foreign tank–if you try to pass it you’ll be flattened to a track of tread.
The only emotion we’ve seemed to register nationally since Katrina wiped Cindy Sheehan out of the papers has been cynical humor that essentially veils what’s underneath with laughter. But we need to mourn, and then tap back into our reserves of anger.
For a sense of what an impossible situation the people in Iraq are caught in–U.S. soldiers and Iraqis alike–then have a look at Yarislav Trofimov’s Faith at War, just out in paperback. When Guernica interviewed Mr. Trofimov, he noted the gruesome game of kill or be killed soldiers are playing with ordinary Iraqis and insurgents:
“Now as to the behavior of the soldiers: occupations always corrupt the occupiers. If you are an eighteen or nineteen-year-old with little education, as is often the case, and you’re put in charge of many, many people on the other end of the world, you have absolute power and you’re not prepared for it. I think that it leads to a power that many abuse.
“Now, the other problem is that the priority of many soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan is operational security: not getting killed. Now that is a very valid priority, but it has to be balanced against many other priorities, especially not killing too many locals in the process.”
To read the whole interview, click here.