Today you may find, in an abbreviated version, the heart of the reason why our investment in Iraq will not pay any dividends. Not if one expects a return in the form of a peaceful, truly democratic nation called “Iraq” that is not just a bunch of ethnic and confessional -stans cobbled together with spit and bailing wire.
The article, by the author Mark Bowden (“Black Hawk Down”), includes this quotation from Michael Sheehan, former ambassador for counter-terrorism that sums up the situation in tribal places such as Iraq:
The idea used to be that terrible countries were terrible because good, decent, innocent people were being oppressed by evil, thuggish leaders. Somalia changed that. Here you have a country where just about everybody is caught up in the fighting. You stop an old lady on the street and ask her if she wants peace, and she will say, ‘Yes, of course, I pray for it daily.’ All the things you would expect her to say. Then ask her if she would be willing for her clan to share power with another to have that peace, and she’ll say, ‘With those murderers and thieves? I’d die first.’ People in these countries . . . don’t want peace. They want victory. They want power. Men, women, old, and young. Somalia was the experience that taught us that people in these places bear much of the responsibility for things being the way they are. The hatred and killing continues because they want it to. Or because they don’t want peace enough to stop it.
“They want victory.” And will settle for nothing less. It is only the whip and the lash and the boot of the dictator that can tame those for whom clan, tribe, confession, and ethnicity trump all else. Or, put more simply, those for whom blood triumphs over reason.
This describes most of mankind. The United States is the leading, and, some might claim, the only successful version of the alternative: a nation whose founding reflects the post-Enlightenment notion that free men can create a nation built on an idea. In our case, the idea, at least in theory, is that each of us has certain, inalienable rights, vested in us not by any political entity, but by God.
Those rights may vary from telling to telling, but in our founding documents, they are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not just for Kurds. Not just for Sunni Arabs. Not just for any single group, but for all.
Iraq may never get there, but whether or not they do, I don’t believe the journey is worth more American lives.