Thursday, April 12, 2007

The coming horror in Iraq

Recently an interview with John Burns was placed on the NYTimes website. What is curious is how little has been made of it. Burns is a valuable resource because he is so experienced: he has made a career of reporting on hot-spots around the world: Beijing, Bosnia, Afghanistan, now Iraq. I once was able to meet him in Islamabad; he had already been covering the Soviet-Mujahedin war in Afghanistan for several years. I got a sense of how difficult it sometimes has been to persuade people – even his editors – of what is actually happening on the ground.

We need to listen to what Burns has been saying: for some reason it is not being highlighted even by the New York Times. Burns has recently (Charlie Rose interview January 24, 2007) said that if things go as they seem to be going in Iraq the results will be “disastrous.” In another interview available on a Times video Burns reports that all the Iraqis he knows, Sunni and Shia, all want the Americans to stay in Iraq.

This is so contrary to appearances. The Democrats think they have been given a mandate to get out of Iraq immediately because, as they infer, the American people voted to get out. The public demonstrations against the Americans by the al-Sadr followings in Baghdad present an image of broad support for expelling the Americans immediately. As always, things are never quite what they seem.

As frustrated with the Bush administration as I have been for starting a pre-emptive war under false pretences – it was not a mistake that they conflated Saddam with Osama but a deliberate fabrication in order mislead the American people – I have to wonder whether it really makes sense to withdraw from Iraq precipitously, as the Democrats seem committed to doing.

It is again a confusion of tongues. The Americans told themselves they were liberators, given their heroic mythology about World War II (and WWI). The Iraqis quickly came to see the Americans as occupiers, given their long history of subjection under the Ottomans and the British. Now that the Americans have realized how grossly they have bungled, they have decided to get out (the only debate is how soon) and leave it to the Iraqis to sort out. Now that it is clear to the Iraqis that the Americans are leaving soon (no doubt about that) many of them are wondering what their lives will be like under, not foreign colonialists, but their own autocratic and brutal “internal colonialists.”

What John F Burns is telling us, if we will listen, is that things, which we thought couldn’t get worse, will in fact get much worse. Can Americans live with the world they leave behind? Will they pay enough attention even to notice? Certainly the Iraqis will remember that the world they are left to sort out was a creation of American hubris.

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