Iraqi Civilian Reacts to Obama’s War Speech – The Daily Beast


In The Daily Beast a roundup of reactions to Obama’s speech last night. One caught my eye – a piece by a LA Times correspondent who had covered the war and went back to talk to her Iraqi contacts:

“Bush had a project in the Middle East,” said my friend Raheem, “and the politician who wants to do something, he has to create his justifications, his excuses, to do it.”

Raheem, who lost a son to a stray American bullet a few years ago, is a pragmatic and pious Shiite Muslim who argues that while the cost of the invasion was high, Iraqis now have their first opportunity to do what they want–whether that means building a secular democracy or a religious autocracy.

“We feel that Bush has done something good for us, despite all the mistakes,” said Raheem, as we made our way through the dusty streets of Baghdad. “It’s politics. In politics you look at your interests. OK, many Americans were killed, and many Iraqis were killed. But still, if he hadn’t interfered, Saddam would have stayed, and we would have been ruled by his sons, his daughters, and his grandchildren.”

It bothers me that the reactions to the war here – kneejerk on both the right and left – doesn’t spend enough time asking the Iraqis themselves.
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11 thoughts on “Iraqi Civilian Reacts to Obama’s War Speech – The Daily Beast”

  1. As compelling as a personal story and opinion like this is, in viewing the war, it will take time to evaluate its worth.

    My feeling is within 5 years of the withdrawal of troops, Iraq will probably be ruled by a strongman, maybe not quite the psychopath that Saddam was, but in the vicinity. The same deep social divisions will exist and a similar repressed society will emerge.

    And that is if we are lucky!

    Another question is; What did we get out of it? This should be a question she should have asked in tandem to her contacts. I think their answers would be even more revealing of our effect on the region.

  2. @toc3,

    That is certainly a possibility, but possible isn’t the same a inevitable, much can depend on the actors. In this case the US is an actor and one question in my mind is how well Iraq will do by itself, because it looks to me like the current administration isn’t doing much to help things along. Obama doesn’t have the interest or involvement Bush had in the situation in Iraq and the state department is off looking at its navel or something. I don’t see any sort of grand strategy and that inherited from Bush is being left to rot. That is what happens when incompetent people are put in charge. So it goes.

  3. Oh, it wasn’t just the middle east. To my eye, Condi was putting together a group that included Japan, India, and Australia as a counter balance to China. I think that group is drifting away from the US these days.

    I could be wrong about the large strategy there, but the attention to India was quite evident. The current administration seems more intent on making nice with our competition than cultivating friends.

  4. Bush 2’s intention seemed to be mainly: 1) topple Hussein; 2) destabilize the middle east so they could not consolidate power against the west; and 3) attempt some kind of democratization of Iraq that might spread into neighboring countries (like Iran) taking power away from the radical mullahs.

    Unfortunately, once he captured Baghdad, overthrew Hussein there was no real plan on how to run the country, and exit. This was Bush’s greatest faux pas, and it continued for years until he backed the surge. So, in a way, the beginning and end of Bush’s leadership in Iraq was positive, while the middle was muddled.

    Obama, on the other hand, seems to be reluctantly engaged in this war effort he opposed. His leadership has been one of dragging his feet and mouthing words of “praise” to any success that has been achieved — sentiments which he doesn’t really feel. This was obvious in his milk toast war speech.

    Obama’s main passion seems to be “transforming” U.S. domestic policy to fit his ideological bent. International affairs are really not too interesting to him, except to make big global speeches. Otherwise, his leadership in these matters seems tepid, detached and sometimes even cowardly, as in the case of his earlier lack of support to Honduras and later the green movement in Iran.

  5. To toc3

    I linked to that cite — Ted’s — and found it intriguing. I was especially fascinated with his “Department of Everything Else.” It makes sense.

  6. By the way: Did anyone catch the “Talk to an Iraqi” segment on Showtime’s version of “This American Life”? (it has been uploaded on to youtube).

    Of note, it’s more interesting for how Americans react to the Iraqi, but still worth 10minutes of your time.

  7. Well, I don’t, in principal, disagree. I think that Barnett opens a very important door to a discussion that needs to take place.

    Nation building, and I am not very sure that means anything more than cleaning up after we have leveled places, never made a lot of sense to me and as Barnett points out pretty lucidly is something that our present Force structure is not fit to handle.

    Without this Force Structure discussion, which I see as a first step in the direction of where you seem to me to be heading, is imperative.

    Where we stood under the Neo-Cons was the worst of both worlds. A Belief in intervention with no idea of what to do once the Leviathan force did its work, a half Baked idea of nation building and spreading democracy by fiat and a basic belief that Our destiny was somehow tied to using our Military power as means to enforce International morality.

    Best of all was the cockamamie idea that we should do this as an Empire.

    As I read this, I cannot believe that anyone took this sort of nonsense seriously. It sounds like something gleaned from Captain America comic books

  8. Chuck,

    What I am talking about, in a sense, isn’t political, it is purely strategic. I don’t think there was a Grand Strategy to be inherited from Bush, unless you call the delusional Dreams of empire and using our power as a moral force in the world a Grand Strategy.

    I don’t think Bush ever understood the Middle East in the way his father and his coterie of advisors did. During the Bush 2 Administration, the Wise Men from his father’s administration gave him a report that essentially said to get out, because anything but indirect rule in that area of the world was suicidal. I tend to agree with that.

    I also feel that the idea that we would bring democracy to an area that had the history that this region has had, seemed to me to be Pollyanna-ish Wilsonianism at best.

    But we will see.

  9. I think it would be worth while for you to look at the link I posted above. I agree with your assessment of Bush 2 and this Pentagon analyst does, as well.

    His take was very interesting to be because he was negotiating with the Indians and the Chinese to send troops to Iraq after the war and gives the reasons why they didn’t.

    He also lays out a decent plan on rearranging our force structure that makes a lot of sense to me.

    I also agree with your perception of diffidence on Obama’s part when it comes to Foreign Policy issues, but his engagement in the Pacific and with India will probably, in the longer term, pay more dividends than that of the Neo-Con Delusions of Empire ever had a hope pay.

    There was a bedrock Republican Foreign Policy vision that arose under Eisenhower that served us well up until Bush 2.

    I think the Neo-Con period was and will continue to be view as a foreign Polich disaster, mainly because of a Polyanna-ish Wilsonian take about confusing wishful thinking with pragmatism.

    Again, Obama seems diffident. It is up to the Republicans to fashion a new philosophy. Unfortunately, this generation of Republicans have not produced any new philosophical tenets either domestically or externally, and none seem to be forthcoming in the near future.
    This depresses me.

  10. Barnett is a captivating speaker. In the context of Iraq and Afghanistan what he says about the need for a “Department of Everything Else” to follow the “Leviathan” of the military seems spot on.

    Here are a few questions this raises for me. A department of “everything else” that engages internationally is, by definition, a nation building entity. It should have limited use. If you build such a force there will be temptation to use it. Barnett mentions North Korea. If one were to effect regime change in North Korea, or Iran say, you would want to have such a force. However, having such a force might lead you to engage in such adventures when it would be better not to.

    The justification for the Leviathan part of the military is primarily defensive in nature: protecting vital interests globally, protecting friends (Europe, Japan(?), Taiwan(?), Israel (?)) from other Leviathan’s. In the wake of the collapse of the Russian leviathan, perhaps we could make do with a minke whale. Barnett suggests as much when he says that much of the military budget could be diverted from Leviathan to the “Department of Everything Else” with no net increase in costs.

    If we don’t invade Iraq and places like it we don’t need a “Department of Everything Else.”

    A “Department of Everything Else” is not defensive in nature. Is it the business of the U.S. to impose regime change in North Korea, Iraq, or Iran if not strictly necessary for defense of the U.S.? It strikes me that proactively imposing regime change and building up countries with a “Department of Everything Else,” in order to have legitimacy must be done with an international mandate. This should be something more than the U.N., which is dysfunctional and lacks legitimacy; something more like a United States of the World. Next century maybe.

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