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Losing it in Iraq

Is anyone else boggling?

Here we are, in a country founded on the separation of church and state, yet we can’t figure out how to balance a Shia majority in Iraq against the minority neighbors they would like to overrun. (Because, let’s face it, the sudden Shia commitment to elections is not a symptom of conversion to democratic ideals.)

Granted, the idea of separating church and state is “out there” for some Middle Easterners. It is also out there for an administration that hopes to be re-elected with the help of fundamentalists. But these aren’t the only available voices. Where are the constitutional scholars, the journalists, or the ninth grade civics students who could point out that this is a problem with an obvious solution?

There’s a good bit of talk about the impossibility of keeping religion out of politics because the “Iraqi people” want Islamic government.

I hadn’t realized we cared what the Iraqis want. We invaded their country because it suited us. We killed thousands of their citizens. Yet now we’re saying it would be too rude to tell them they can have any government they want, so long as it’s secular. I know nation-building is for softies, but this is ridiculous.

And, furthermore, who are these “Iraqi people” who want things? Almost two thirds of the Iraqis, two thirds, are women. They can’t all be like Ann Coulter. Many of them are on record as being quite progressive. Obviously, these women are not “Iraqi people” since what they want doesn’t enter the picture. I’m not even talking about how Iraqi men feel. I’m talking about a two thirds majority that doesn’t seem to exist for Bremer and Bush.

It’s also unclear why we’re ignoring our own democratic principles when they could address so many problems for us. Separating church and state and paying attention to a two thirds majority could reduce the influence of fanatical Islamists, which we say is our goal.

Mysteries are supposed to be solved by considering motives, and the effects of US occupation in Iraq are clear enough, even if the rhetoric makes no sense. Oil installations are the only things protected from looting. Taxpayer money flows to crony corporations. It all feels like a bad echo of the attempts in the 1950s to install puppet dictators in Central America. Now, it’s not cheap fruit we’re trying to extract, but cheap oil. The “unforeseen” consequences won’t be illegal aliens. Instead, we’ll have our hands full of illegal terrorists.

How long can we sustain this planet-sized gap between what we say here and what we do there? When the terrorists refuse to seethe quietly in their own part of the world, will we boggle again about why they hate us so much?


(Written March 19, 2004, but misposted.)

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