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December 23, 2004

Iraq: Hovering On The Precipice

Thomas Sowell ponders the enormous gamble we're taking in Iraq:

The election coming up in Iraq may turn out, in the long view of history, to be even more important than our own recent election. Both elections represent a country at a crossroads, with a choice of very different paths to take -- for many years to come -- according to the results of the voting.

If Iraqi voters choose a government that will perpetuate their right to continue to freely choose their own government, that will represent a radical change and something unique in the history of the entire Arab world. Its repercussions on surrounding Middle East countries could be momentous in the years and generations ahead.

On the other hand, depending on who is elected, this could turn out like the first elections held in some African countries after they achieved their independence in the 1960s: "One man, one vote -- one time." Too often, the winner of that first election made sure that no one else could ever be elected to replace him.
The Bush administration has poured American blood and treasure into Iraq in hopes of an outcome that will spare future generations of Americans another tragedy like 9/11. Just the fact of taking this long view contrasts sharply with the Clinton administration's focus on short run issues of political damage control, which amounted to sweeping international problems under the rug and leaving them for future administrations to deal with.
Like every judgment, however thoughtful or informed, this judgment by the Bush administration can turn out to be mistaken. The only way to avoid making mistakes is to avoid making decisions -- which can be the most catastrophic mistake of all.

Some continue to say we should not have taken this risk.

That viewpoint mystifies me. We've been wrestling with MiddleEastern terrorism as long as I've been alive. As David Brooks pointed out, despite all the conventional wisdom, earth shaking changes are happening in the MiddleEast: the kind of changes no one expected to take place. And it all started with a vision. And the courage to draw a line in the sand.

Day after day we hear about the 1000+ combat dead, but we hear little or nothing about the miracle of free elections in Afghanistan. I often wonder if history offers another example where the liberation of two nations like Iraq and Afghanistan has been purchased so cheaply? Not that 1000, or 2000, or even 5000 war dead is an insignificant price to pay. But weighed against World War I, or II; the Korean War, or Vietnam, where we went to war to liberate a tiny Southeast Asian nation and lost 58,000 of our men only to withdraw in defeat, the question must be asked.

But it is not asked. It is not considered politically correct to suggest that 1000 lives may be an acceptable price to pay.

It is not as though I do not weep for the dead.

Last year, my husband's battalion had the unpleasant duty of notifying families of Iraq veterans that their loved ones had been killed in action. We had a small staff, so there were few available for this duty. It takes its toll. But perhaps the worst moments, for me, came when we lost one of our own Marines, and we had to break the news to a dear friend.

I have never dealt well with other people's pain. I'm fine when I'm with them because they need me to be strong. But then when I'm alone I feel so helpless - so angry on their behalf: not at anyone or anything. But you just want to make it all go away and there's nothing you can do to help. It is total powerlessness.

You just want to do something. And there is nothing you CAN do. Except wait for time to heal the pain and help them look after the mundane details of living.

For the first time in my life, I became very depressed. For almost four months, I couldn't sleep at night. I stopped eating. I lost massive amounts of weight. I got sick, which I never do. I fretted. I grieved. And finally, I snapped out of it, though I still tear up at the drop of a hat. For someone who has always been almost too even-tempered, it was a very frightening experience.

So believe me, I don't dismiss 1000 war dead easily. Or lightly.

But we cannot make these decisions based on emotion, or on the whim of a moment. Our lives are important, certainly, but they are, viewed another way, mere pages (or perhaps just single lines) in the vast ledger of history, much of which is yet to be written.

Everything we have today flows from the sacrifices of those who went before us: often heroic, sometimes nameless, sadly forgotten now by those who enjoy the freedoms they fought so hard to secure. We stand on the shoulders of past generations, just as they stood on the shoulders of their forebears.

With each generation, life has become easier and easier and we have grown blind to the dangers around us.

If we, complacent in our affluence, refuse our duty, what kind of world will we leave to our children? Sowell asks whether the Iraqis themselves want democracy? Prime Minister Ayad Allawi responds:

In just over one month's time, the citizens of Iraq will be presented with a unique opportunity to close a chapter of decades of tyrannical rule and take their first steps to shape their own future by participating in the first free and fair elections in generations. On Jan. 30, Iraqis will vote for the Iraqi National Assembly to enable the drafting of a permanent constitution, in preparation for full elections for a government one year later.
Turning to the conduct of the elections next month, and despite all the pessimism by the skeptics, we see encouraging signs as Iraqis enthusiastically register to vote, and thousands of candidates from across the political spectrum put themselves forward for election. The cowardly targeting of voter registration centers by terrorists demonstrates their fear of the coming fulfillment of Iraq's aspirations for democracy and freedom.
Ballots will prove far more powerful than bullets in the end, and the will of the peaceful majority of Iraqis will triumph over the terror tactics of a hateful few. To this mission, I and my colleagues from the Interim Government pledge ourselves, and we call upon the governments and citizens of our allies in the international community and our neighbors in the region to do their utmost to support Iraq at this critical juncture. A free and secure Iraq will be a victory for all peace-loving people, and we Iraqis face a historic opportunity that we shall not squander.

To replace a hated dictator who tried to murder our President, who sponsored suicide bombers and paid bounties to terrorists, with a freely-elected democratic government: is this not a dream worth the candle? Or is all our talk of loving freedom and democracy just that: talk?

Posted by Cassandra at December 23, 2004 07:58 AM

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Great post Cass, you truly are talented at this.

And there aren't even any pictures.

Posted by: Pile On® at December 23, 2004 12:23 PM

Pile hon, I saw the perfect picture this morning, but I'm afraid it made me blush...

Posted by: Cassandra at December 23, 2004 01:25 PM

Cass, there is no good way to break that news, but you did something on a visceral level: You grieved with them. Trust me, that is everything to someone who is beyond anguish at the loss of a husband.

No, we don't ask them to this lightly, but remember these men signed a contract and we as a nation support them in their duty.

My cousin is ambivalent about the war, but that is better than being a foaming at the mouth military basher. She rightly wants them to be able to finish their job and BE VICTORIOUS...but maintains some skepticism about the leaders.

So, I directed her to this blog and hopefully she will read and understand a bit more. Once again, an excellent post.

Posted by: Cricket at December 23, 2004 04:59 PM

Scepticism is not a bad thing.

I think we should be sceptical when we ask men to die on our behalf. That's why I was so reluctant to support this war in the first place.

But if we learned anything from Vietnam it's that we need to commit and follow through. Can anything be more heartbreaking than a half-assed war fought with no real intent to win? And given up so close to victory with the objective still unachieved? At the price of almost 60 thousand dead?

It boggles the mind.

The slaughter in Cambodia shows what we were fighting. Pure evil.

People who say ideology doesn't matter should go there and view the charnel houses and tell me that. I'd like to deck them. It matters like hell.


Posted by: Cassandra at December 23, 2004 05:34 PM

I have hoovered on the precipice. If you have the skills it can be done with no great danger to life or limb.

Posted by: Pile On® at December 23, 2004 07:05 PM

Good writing, Cass. I think the Afghantistan election should encourage us (it certainly seems to have demoralized Al Qaeda). Iraq is a much more Westernized country. And Chrenkoff has a point: we're only seeing the small % of the country that's in turmoil, because that's 'newsworthy'.

It's the flesh-eating bacteria principle: a certain staph germ that has always been around suddenly got some attention a few years back & was suddenly on the front page. Every day someone else had it! Terrifying. Till someone pointed out that it's always killed about 300 people a year (in a country of 300 million). The news is a collage, & it depends on who's assembling it.

Posted by: jeff at December 23, 2004 11:03 PM

Let the children have their night of fun and laughter, let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern tasks and formidable years that lie before us, resolved that by our sacrifice and daring these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.

Winston Churchill

Posted by: purple raider at December 24, 2004 01:31 AM

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