On Your Knees

Amidst all the chatter that constitutes this new phase of American involvement in Iraq very little is heard about the fate of the primarily nameless and faceless Iraqis who want to live in a secular, democratic country (which may be further reason why this is a noble and prudent proposal). Two articles today tried to address the situation from their perspective.

First, writing in Salon, Gary Kamiya summed up the undeniably grim status quo in Iraq as follows:

“In Iraq today, death can come from anywhere, for any reason or no reason. You can be killed because you belonged to the wrong sect, because you were seen talking to an American, because someone wants your car, because you wore shorts, because you were selling ice, because you drove too close to a U.S. checkpoint, because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Kamiya’s assessment, true though it is, comes as part of an essay titled, “Shame” in which he lays the blame for the horror described above on “our folly, our rashness, our stupid self-righteousness, our inexcusable imperial hubris.” (Not a word about those actually sowing the bloody seeds of civil war). Kamiya laments how we “callously ignore the Iraqi victims of a war we started.” In order to rectify this grave wrong Kamiya does not propose we redouble our efforts to support those who want to live in a secular, democratic Iraq. Rather, Kamiya argues that we should “express our shame.”

“I would like to propose a national day of apology. On this day, all Americans, those who supported the war and those who did not, will come together without rancor and apologize to the Iraqi people for what we have done. It will be a day without politics, without anger, maybe even without words. A day simply to say we’re sorry. And to say it, figuratively or literally, on our knees.”

Without imputing Kamiya’s sincerity, this gesture is worse than useless. It is self-flagellating narcissism masquerading as compassion. How would those Iraqis Kamiya eloquently empathises with benefit from a day spent on our knees? Perhaps Kamiya would feel better on his knees, but to paraphrase Joe Biden, shame is not a policy.

Let’s be serious. Over in Slate, Christopher Hitchens draws attention to the plight of these same Iraqis. I was particularly struck by Hitchen’s seeming acceptance of the Peter Galbraith idea, articulated in The End of Iraq, that coalition forces should be redeployed to the Kurdish north while maintaining the ability to answer requests for assistance from the central government and the right to confront al-Qaeda forces without notice. Hitchens, the war’s most indefatigable defender, has been relatively mum about policy proposals going forward, preferring to aim his acidic pen at those who call for immediate withdrawal or continue to harp on the illegality or unjustness of the entire intervention. (Hitchens, like Galbraith, has long been a partisan of Kurdish independence.)

Hitchens is right to point out that as intolerable as the current situation is we should be mindful of the distinction between the status quo and the full-scale Talibanization of Iraq (or sections of Iraq). “And does anyone want to argue that a Talibanized Iraq would not require our attention down the road if we left it behind us?”

Explore posts in the same categories: Iraq

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