Out of Iraq

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The hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fleeing carnage and chaos in their homeland each month aren’t arguing about whether to call that situation a civil war. They’re just leaving. According to reporter Nir Rosen, back in the U.S. after three months in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, the Iraqi refugee crisis is now among the worst refugee crises in the world:

[These Iraqis] don’t have the rights and privileges normally associated with refugees. They’re stateless. They can’t work. They’re desperate. Each family has horrible stories of car bombs, of death threats, of violence and rapes. They have no protection and no future.

Nir Rosen, in a conversation with Open Source, 11/28/06

What is life like for this refugee population, now numbering nearly two million? How are host countries like Jordan and Syria absorbing and coping with this population? Do these refugees threaten to destabilize these countries and the region even more? Are Sunnis and Shiites leaving in equal numbers? And what does the refugee crisis tell us about the situation on the ground in Iraq?

Nir Rosen

Fellow, The New America Foundation

Author, In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq

Author, Anatomy of a Civil War, Boston Review, Nov/Dec 2006

Open Source guest, Juan Cole: Iraq in 2006 and Nir Rosen on Iraq

Faiza Al-Araji

Iraqi refugee living in Amman, Jordan

Blogger, A Family in Baghdad

Sean Garcia

Refugee Advocate, Refugees International

Extra Credit Reading

Michael Luo, Iraq’s Christians Flee as Extremist Threat Worsens, Middle East Transparent, October 16, 2006: “At the Church of the Virgin Mary, Father Khossaba showed a visitor the baptism forms for parishioners leaving the country who need proof of their religious affiliation for visas. Some weeks he has filled out 50 of the forms, he said, and some weeks more.”

Faiza Al-Arji, Return to Baghdad A Family in Baghdad, November 14th, 2006: “I know exactly the danger of the situation there, but my longing for Baghdad destroyed me. And I took the risk, I told some people: if I die there, bury me, for it would be the peak of my happiness to be buried in my homeland, Instead of the torment of expatriation away from my beloved country. What is the meaning of life without a country?”

Salah Nasrawi, More Iraqi Refugees Escape to Syria, The Washington Post, November 29, 2006: “In Damascus, many Iraqis live a precarious existence, often without steady incomes. Many say they left Iraq after being threatened with abduction by criminal gangs or sectarian militias. ‘We are living like homeless people. How long can we survive after we spent all the money we had?’ asked Lutfi Kairallah, a civil engineer.”

Tom A. Peter, Iraqi refugees spill into Jordan, driving up prices, Christian Science Monitor, November 29, 2006: “‘Everything in Jordan is expensive because of the Iraqis,’ says Mohamed Arafha, a Jordanian barber. ‘Groceries, apartments, haircuts, everything.'”

Kenneth Pollack, Daniel Byman, Carriers of Conflict, The Atlantic Monthly, November 2006: “Refugees…can…corrode state power from the inside, fomenting radicalization of domestic populations and encouraging rebellion against host governments. The burden of caring for hundreds of thousands of refugees is heavy, straining government administrative capacity and possibly eroding public support for regimes shown to be weak, unresponsive, or callous. And the sudden presence of armed fighters with revolutionary aspirations can lead disaffected local clans or co-religionists to ally with the refugees against their own governments, especially when an influx of one ethnic or religious group upsets a delicate demographic balance, as would likely be case in some of Iraq’s neighbors.”

Hugh Macleod, Despair of Baghdad turns into a life of shame in Damascus, The Guardian, October 24, 2006: “Mona had become another victim of the growing sex trade among an Iraqi refugee community in Syria that local NGOs now estimate at 800,000 people, and to whose plight aid agencies say the international community continues to turn a blind eye.”

Khalaf, Iraqi refugees in Jordan, What’s up in Jordan?, November 28, 2006: “Not only is Human Rights Watch (HRW) asking to provide free services to the refugees already here, but it is also asking to let anybody who wants to enter to do so. Presumably, it we do this, the flood gates of funds from international donors will open and the financial burden created by this will be taken off our shoulders. HRW must think we are stupid.”

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  • Old Nick
  • plnelson

    Among those streaming out of Iraq should be the Anericans and the Brits. It’s astounding that Bush is still sloganing that victory is our only option.

    Despite the indescribable idiocy of the US decision to invade Iraq in the first place, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this chaos is something the Iraqi’s are doing to themselves. After we conquered Germany and Japan in WWII those two countries peacefully set about rebuilding themselves and creating new governments. Iraq, of course, is a different culture with a different history, but then again, Germany and Japan are also two of the most different cultures with different histories from each other imaginable.

    By invading Iraq the US stupidly removed all the doors at the insane asylum. That was our bad. But it’s not our fault that the Iraqis appear to be people who are not happy unless they are in possession of a bound prisoner and a fully charged battery on their cordless drill.

  • nother

    My question is an extension of the bigotry 101 show, what are the markers that distinguish the Shiites and Sunnis and do they shed these markers on the way out or embrace them?

  • faithandreason

    Empathy!

    American’s public image has suffered much from our “pushy” foreign policy, particularly in Iraq and Palestine. Maybe Americans can rescue their reputations by having both empathy and follow-through.

    We may have quantitative indicators of refugee count, demographics, and geography, but even with ChoicePoint-style characterization of the refugees we see, it is they, not us, who know themselves. In complex systems, “pushes” often lead to unpredictable results. It’s hard to “pull,” but often more effective.

    Which brings me to one humble proposal. This doen’st have to be a government program:

    (1) Find localities outside Iraq where Iraqi refugees are highly concentrated.

    (2) Ask Iraqi refugees if they would like American “help,” and if so, what kind? (3) Provide them with the help they ask for.

    The experience of American volunteers after the Pakistan earthquake suggests that humble service can do a lot to open minds — of the volunteer and the host.

    http://quake-relief.blogspot.com/2005/11/us-volunteers-find-pakistan-more.html

    Private groups, like microcredit lenders a la kiva.org, might be a good conduit for legitimate good will, American or otherwise. Microcredit (interest free) can avoid the perception of (for-profit) usury or (handout) dependency, and help refugees build capacity to rebuild their way.

  • Are these refugees being placed in temporary refugee camps?

    If so, it will be interesting to see how they compare to those of the Palestinians, and how the two refugee populations interact. Will the Iraqi refugees be influenced by the Palestinian refugees to confront Israel, even though Israel is not involved in the Iraq war? Or will the Iraqi refugees offer a contrast to the Palestininans, by either returning to their homeland quickly or better integrating into their host countries? Any predictions?

  • joshua hendrickson

    When I first heard about the diaspora of intelligencia (sp?) from Iraq I shook my head and wondered why it hadn’t started sooner. Courage and pride, in the best sense, must have been the factors keeping doctors et al. from abandoning their homeland sooner rather than later. It bespeaks a level of horror quite beyond any we armchair philosophers are capable of understanding directly, that the courage and pride of these folks, so desperately needed by their dying country, has been bled out along with their own literal blood.

    Isn’t it sad when a country’s state of affairs becomes so grim that the very best people must escape in order not to be targeted? Not just killed as bystanders; actually targeted. But then, people with skills, intellect, and education are so often the primary targets for the violent and dispossessed and single-minded in a nation at war with itself. It’s one of the ugliest facets of human nature.

    I never supported this war, but even I and others like me, I think, could not anticipate just how badly wrong it would go. On the war’s eve in March 2003, I attended a protest bearing a sign that got me more considered looks and comments than any other in the crowd, because of its quote from a great cynic:

    WAR IS NATURE’S WAY OF TEACHING AMERICANS GEOGRAPHY

    Would that war was also nature’s way of teaching us compassion! But alas, I fear that is a lesson for which we have not yet devised a foolproof teaching method–not even the over-publicized Jesus has been much success at it. Looking back now I think my own sign showed no compassion, only cleverness. I don’t regret the cleverness–I believed then and I believe now that Americans are far too ignorant of the world to deserve wielding so forceful a hand in its affairs, and I wanted to make that message clear through Ambrose Bierce’s words of a century ago–but I do rue not expressing my compassion for the doomed. If only I could do so now in a manner that actually had some effect.

    “Victory.” If ever that word had meaning, it is empty of it now.

  • Potter

    I wonder what is happening to the Iraqi National Orchestra. It was so wonderful to see them gathered again and playing right after the US invasion. In September this year we read that they were still playing: And the Orchestry Plays On, Echoing Iraq’s Struggles

  • plnelson

    Looking back now I think my own sign showed no compassion, only cleverness.

    The problem with compassion is that, in situations like this, it often only leads to frustration. I think most Amricans know this which is why they are reluctant to make a big emotional investment in the suffering of the Iraqi people.

    In a natural disaster you can respond to compassionate impulses by sending material aid or money, or if you are present at the scene, by helping out in person. In all those cases you can be fairly sure you’re doing some good and tiding people over until they can get their lives back to normal.

    The problem with Iraq. is that there’s no way you can, with confidence, turn your compassionate impulses into practical results. It’s one thing to rebuild a road or house destroyed in an earthquake or flood, but there is no known way to rebuild a country intent on destroying itself. And when it comes to sending aid to places like Jordan and Syria you don’t even know if the aid is ending up in respectable or kind hands. The Palestinian refugee camps are a major source of terrorists.

    Years ago I was involved in a project to settle one specific Cambodian family in Lowell. I think that when it comes to refugee aid that’s one of the few responses to compassionate urges that you can feel much satisfaction in, because you can look the people you are helping in the eye, shake their hands, and see the good you’re doing.

    In the case of Iraq I just want it to go away, and I want all the people who are responsible for our being there, from George Bush to Hillary Clinton, to go away.

  • pryoung

    I fear that impulse to “want it to go away”, though I certainly do understand it. That same impulse was at work in the British as they rid themselves of their own intractable imperial problems in India and Palestine in 1947. The solution adopted then, partition, is of course one being considered again now in Iraq, without much regard it seems for the bitterness and bloodshed those earlier partitions continue to sustain. Refugees, partition, resettlement, and an America eager to “declare victory”, leave and not face up to its responsibility and shame in this debacle is a recipe for decades-long disaster.

    I can’t accept the notion that the entire country of Iraq is “intent on destroying itself”, or that it was somehow an “asylum” before the Americans arrived. It is not culture (often a euphemism for race) or nationality that produces violence, it is politics and specific political actors. I agree that America can no longer really have much impact on the situation in Iraq; but I think it’s important for the country even as it withdraws in political defeat to continue to morally “own” the violence it has substantially abetted.

  • joshua hendrickson

    We can’t make it go away.

    We broke it; we bought it.

    I say, let all Iraqi refugees come to the US. Texas ought to be big enough to hold them all.

    And how to pay for their care? Why, let’s use the Bush family fortune, as well as the fortunes of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Wolfowitz, and the other neocons responsible for this mess.

    I sound as though I were kidding.

    In a sane world I would be dead serious.

    But then, in a sane world, none of this would have happened.

  • plnelson

    That same impulse was at work in the British as they rid themselves of their own intractable imperial problems in India and Palestine in 1947. The solution adopted then, partition, is of course one being considered again now in Iraq, without much regard it seems for the bitterness and bloodshed those earlier partitions continue to sustain.

    India is democratic and has an 8% annual GDP growth rate. It’s not clear that this could ever have been achieved an other way. In any case the UK had no choice – they were exhausted and bankrupt following WWII and had no good alternatives.

    Refugees, partition, resettlement, and an America eager to “declare victory”, leave and not face up to its responsibility and shame in this debacle is a recipe for decades-long disaster.

    This is just rhetoric. America has no good, practical alternatives. And besides the fact that “morally ‘owning’ the violence” is nothing but a rhetorical device, the fact is that it is not our violence – we don’t own it and and in fact we are doing what we can to stop it. This is something the Iraqi’s are doing to each other for their own perverse reasons.

  • plnelson

    It is not culture (often a euphemism for race) or nationality that produces violence, it is politics and specific political actors.

    This is just your personal assertion; but let’s try to be intellectually honest here: the fact is that no one knows that causes violence or why some societies are more violent than others. I certainly do not claim to know why Iraq is so violent, when nations such as Japan and Germany were not. We could speculate all day but at the end of the day it would remain speculation. All that matters is that it is violent and no one knows what to do about it, so let’s stop wasting our time, money, and US lives.

    We can’t make it go away.

    We broke it; we bought it.

    We didn’t break it – the Iraqi’s spend every day tring to break their own “nation”. And even if you analogy were true, if I broke and thus bought something I would be free to do whatever I wanted with it, including throwing it in the trashy.

    Anyway, these rhetorical devices about “buying” things or “morally owning” things are a lot of wordplay with no concrete meaning. The Iraqi’s are clearly not interested in creating a peaceful, functioning society. They are only interested in having unconstrained opportunities to settle their various ethnic, religious, or criminal-gang disputes. We have no way to make a positive contribution to the situation and our presence there only inflames it and provides more opportunities for Americans to get killed or wounded, all the while costing us billions of dollars.

  • Gid.

    If we accept that the currant circumstance in Iraq is a civil war as James Fearon, the countries leading academic expert in the subject does, the immediate question that arises is what kind of civil war. It seems it is surely not a civil war like the American Civil War or the English Civil War, that is one in which a mater of national principal is decided by force of arms. At the end of this sort of conflict the nation to reunites around the victorious principal i.e. emancipation or the continuation of the monarchy. It seems much more like the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia or the Congo. Where peoples forced together into nationhood by fiat and held together by a strong man disunite when the gravitational pull of dictatorship vanishes.

    It appears that the ethnic/sectarian violence loosed in Iraq is propelling the Iraqi people to take to the road in a kind of mass un-making of the ethnically and religiously integrated post colonial state. It would seem that any sensible vision for Iraq would include the forcible separation of the warring parties, not unlike the partition of Yugoslavia. Most foreign policy experts at this time dismiss the suggestion of structured partition, stabilized and secured by the US military, as imposable and dangerous. And yet, it has worked in the past as a means for diffusing intractable war. In Korea and in Yugoslavia partition was successful in bringing an end to hostilities and providing an ugly but enduring peace.

    Could the burgeoning refugee crises be seen as a sign that the national fabric of Iraq has been permanently destroyed? How much of this migration is just a flight from violence and how much is it the re-concentration of population in more homogonous groups? Or is it both.

    The dissolution of Iraq imposed and presided over by the USA, or achieved through a more violent and disorderly process of civil strife and refugee migration, will have an impact on the balance of power in the Middle East. The emergence in Southern Iraq of oil rich Shiite state aligned with a probably nuclear Iran is most probable. As counter intuitive as it may seem the rise of Iran as a regional power is not entirely antithetical to the medium term interests of the United States. Chances are that Iran might well have the capabilities to manage the fractious Shiite factions in the South preventing a chaos and in time leading to the rehabilitation of the oil producing resources there.

    An impoverished Sunni state that is either a basket case or a nasty dictatorship is sadly the likely outcome for the center of the country. This state, or quasi state might end up under the influence of Syria as a kind of larger cousin to Lebanon. This is a much more troubling but I fear unavoidable.

    Would it be possible to create a very large forward leaning military base in the new nation of Kurdistan? An Okinawa/South Korea style counter balance just a minute or two at missile speed from Tehran and Baghdad and Damascus. Such a base might also ensure security for Kurdistan from Turkey, and for Turkey from the Kurds.

    The question is does the United States have a responsibility to ensure as much as possible security for the shifting populations in Iraq and is there in this task the seeds of a nasty but acceptable stale mate ending to this adventure.

  • plnelson

    “If we accept that the currant circumstance in Iraq is a civil war as James Fearon, the countries leading academic expert in the subject does, the immediate question that arises is what kind of civil war.”

    To me, the question that arises is, “who cares?” What is this fetishistic obsession with putting a label on it?! Why does it matter whether we CALL it a civil war or not? As New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick likes to say, “it is what it is.” It’s a chaotic, violent anarchy – a Hobbesian “man in a state of nature” only with automatic weapons and power tools.

    Their use of power tools as torture devices is almsot poetic – we value such tools for their use in building and constructing things – they use them syolically to unbuild their entire society.

    As a poet I’m also moved by the irony of this as the neocons’ monument to nation-building. They started with a nation that was barely held together with baling wire, duct-tape and tyranny, and now it’s totally demolished.

    Of course the world is littered with places (puh-leeze stop calling then ”

    It seems it is surely not a civil war like the American Civil War or the English Civil War, that is one in which a mater of national principal is decided by force of arms. At the end of this sort of conflict the nation to reunites around the victorious principal i.e. emancipation or the continuation of the monarchy. It seems much more like the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia or the Congo. Where peoples forced together into nationhood by fiat and held together by a strong man disunite when the gravitational pull of dictatorship vanishes.

    It appears that the ethnic/sectarian violence loosed in Iraq is propelling the Iraqi people to take to the road in a kind of mass un-making of the ethnically and religiously integrated post colonial state. It would seem that any sensible vision for Iraq would include the forcible separation of the warring parties, not unlike the partition of Yugoslavia.

  • plnelson

    “If we accept that the currant circumstance in Iraq is a civil war as James Fearon, the countries leading academic expert in the subject does, the immediate question that arises is what kind of civil war.”

    To me, the question that arises is, “who cares?” What is this fetishistic obsession with putting a label on it?! Why does it matter whether we CALL it a civil war or not? As New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick likes to say, “it is what it is.” It’s a chaotic, violent anarchy – a Hobbesian “man in a state of nature” only with automatic weapons and power tools.

    Their use of power tools as torture devices is almsot poetic – we value such tools for their use in building and constructing things – they use them syolically to unbuild their entire society.

    As a poet I’m also moved by the irony of this as the neocons’ monument to nation-building. They started with a nation that was barely held together with baling wire, duct-tape and tyranny, and now it’s totally demolished.

    Of course the world is littered with places (puh-leeze stop calling them “nations”!) whose borders were drawn for the convenience of some conquering army or colonial administrator, and which never had any real sense of nationhood. But we persist in believing that today’s borders were drawn by the hand of God and whatever warring tribes this colonial God has joined together let no modern man tear asunder. What sentimental idiocy!

    It seems it is surely not a civil war like the American Civil War or the English Civil War, that is one in which a mater of national principal is decided by force of arms. At the end of this sort of conflict the nation to reunites around the victorious principal i.e. emancipation or the continuation of the monarchy. It seems much more like the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia or the Congo. Where peoples forced together into nationhood by fiat and held together by a strong man disunite when the gravitational pull of dictatorship vanishes.

    It appears that the ethnic/sectarian violence loosed in Iraq is propelling the Iraqi people to take to the road in a kind of mass un-making of the ethnically and religiously integrated post colonial state. It would seem that any sensible vision for Iraq would include the forcible separation of the warring parties, not unlike the partition of Yugoslavia.

  • plnelson

    Apologies for the last two paragraphs accidentally cut and pasted from Gid’s post.

    Brendan WHY do we have this old-fashioned blogging software that has no way to edit posts?

  • Kat8seb

    I was prompted to write after hearing the guest on the show say that Americans just don’t care about the situation in Iraq. I care, and part of the reason why “Americans” may not seem to care is because we have no voice to be heard, other that this kind of forum. Thank you for airing what I have been waiting to hear for years – the truth from an Iraqi citizen’s perspective. We’ve been hoodwinked at every stage of this fiasco, and it’s got to stop! Violence feeds upon itself, and spreads to our society as well. When young people know that killing rather than negotiating is how our government controls opposing thoughts, then why wouldn’t they follow the leader and kill someone rather than try to deal constructively. Sure I’m a pacifist – but it’s because this is invasion of Iraq is, and always has been, lunacy.

  • pryoung

    we don’t disagree, plnelson, on the futility of the American military presence in Iraq, and both (I’m guessing) saw that futility early on in the whole adventure. My point was made in the context of the show topic here, which concerns refugees and the regional humanitarian and political fallout of the American debacle. As the show suggested, it is Iraq’s neighbors that are already being forced to deal with that, while America works behind the scenes to undermine the very notion that there is an Iraqi refugee problem. Just keep postponing the day of reckoning.

    I read your posts as an avoidance of reckoning as well. Sure, America has to get out. But then what? We can’t simply fob the whole thing off on some inherent Iraqi viciousness and retreat back into the cozy comfort of our good intentions. America is compelled by both moral responsibility and political self-interest to find new ways of containing the damage it has done in the region (and to itself) with its invasion. What that might mean is something we could discuss. But it’s wishful thinking to say this has become only an Iraqi problem.

  • pryoung

    “This is just your personal assertion; but let’s try to be intellectually honest here: the fact is that no one knows that causes violence or why some societies are more violent than others. I certainly do not claim to know why Iraq is so violent, when nations such as Japan and Germany were not. We could speculate all day but at the end of the day it would remain speculation. All that matters is that it is violent and no one knows what to do about it, so let’s stop wasting our time, money, and US lives.”

    No, it’s not speculation or “personal assertion” why violence happens. It’s the product of historical conditions that can be analyzed and understood. For the first half of the twentieth century, Germany and Japan were the most violent international actors the world had ever seen. During the second half, they were for the most part among the more laudably peaceful and constructive members of the international community. It wouldn’t be at all difficult to establish the historical reasons for that change (different international order, total defeat in WWII, Western financial and political support, discrediting of radical nationalism, etc.).

    You fall into an old pattern in characterizing the violence of the less developed world as somehow less rational and comprehensible than other varieties. As appalling as the current violence in Iraq is, there are reasons for it which can be understood. And they are political, not cultural ones.

  • Gid.

    In Reply to Plnelson:

    As repulsive as the circumstances in Iraq appear to have become, and as phony or unfathomable the causus belli…Our circumstance and responsibility “is what it is” in spades. Analyzing the nature of the civil war in Iraq gives us some clues as to how to extricate our selves, without condemning the Iraqis to a decade of genocidal intertribal fighting. Precipitous withdrawal will remove the last shreds holding any kind of order together. On the other hand continuing the currant strategy will most likely result in a similar outcome, punctuated by a Saigon style air lift form the roofs of the green zone.

    This war was founded on falsehoods, prosecuted in ignorance…Must we finish it with an out and out slaughter? Or can we at least stand up and pick the lesser evil?

  • It is heartbreaking to see the sophisticated, educated, urban professional class of Iraq falling victim to uneducated, fundamentalist thugs (both Shi’a and Sunni).

    It seems like this is a pattern in other places (Bosnia, for example), the educated professional classes fall victim to nationalist or fundamentalist gangs. I wish there was a way for such people to really fight back. What can we do to help?

  • plnelson

    No, it’s not speculation or “personal assertion” why violence happens. It’s the product of historical conditions that can be analyzed and understood.

    I’m sorry but you are wrong. There is no rigorous science of human behavior that explains with any reliable testability or predictibility the degree of violence that will be exhibited by individuals or groups in any given situation. If you review the academic literature on this topic you will find a vast range of opinion and viewpoint but absolutely no consensus.

    If you do think you can predict violence you can sell your services to any UN peacekeeping mission or major city police department.

    WRT Germany and Japan you say: “It wouldn’t be at all difficult to establish the historical reasons for that change (different international order, total defeat in WWII, Western financial and political support, discrediting of radical nationalism, etc.).

    You seem unfamiliar with 60 years of academic study of that exact topic. All the things you suggest (and more) have been discussed, but in the end there is no agreement or consensus of their various roles.

    “As appalling as the current violence in Iraq is, there are reasons for it which can be understood. And they are political, not cultural ones.”

    But you cannot prove this with any intellectual rigor. Besides I never suggested that European or Japanese violence is any more comprehensible – I’m saying that NONE of it is. There is no science to this; just speculation.

  • plnelson

    Analyzing the nature of the civil war in Iraq gives us some clues as to how to extricate our selves, without condemning the Iraqis to a decade of genocidal intertribal fighting. Precipitous withdrawal will remove the last shreds holding any kind of order together. On the other hand continuing the currant strategy will most likely result in a similar outcome, punctuated by a Saigon style air lift form the roofs of the green zone.

    What is your support for the part in bold, above?

    What makes you think that analyzing it will result in useful clues? All sorts of people have been analyzing this for several years but no suggestions that we have any reason to have confidence in have emerged.

    I’m an engineer for a large corporation. In my field wwe have an expression: “analysis paralysis” where we talk about things forever as a way to avoid making a hard decision.

    As I was explaining to pryoung, the intellectual and scientific tools to analyze human social behavior with much rigor or predictibility simply do not exist – our science is not that advanced.

    It was a failure to recognize this that resulted in the hubris of this invasion in the first place! The neocons also thought that it was possible tu “understand” and “analyze” the world this way.

    Intellectual honesty compels us to recognize that human behavior is simply not that predictible, and therefore we cannot base our policy decisions on predictions of what these outcomes will be. Maybe it will be a bloodbath; maybe it won’t. Maybe southern Iraq will join with Iran and become an oil-rich Islamic nuclear power. Maybe people will stare into the abyss and all get democratic. Maybe a new strongman will emerge and unify the place. We cannot predict it; let’s not pretend we can.

  • plnelson

    “It seems like this is a pattern in other places (Bosnia, for example), the educated professional classes fall victim to nationalist or fundamentalist gangs. I wish there was a way for such people to really fight back. What can we do to help?”

    Probably nothing. Short of sending in soldiers and forcing order on a place there’s not much you can do about thugs and anarchy.

    The most helpful thing is to make sure that talented, creative people do not sit idly in refugee camps, or be forced to take menial jobs in the west as clerks and warehouse workers, as some eastern-European professionals I know did. If someone is educated as a scientist, doctor, or academic, professional societies in the west should help them get acredited quickly so they can work in their field.

    Of course this creates a terrible brain drain back home, but what are they supposed to do – live as recluses in burned-out universities while fighting off their thuggish and violent countrymen? What a waste of talent and intellect.

  • hurley

    Am I the only person besides Chris to have remarked Nir Rosen’s statement about Israel? Chris was quick to ask for a clarification; Rosen seemed to decline, but then his curious affect made a lot of things in the interview problematic. His grim vision of Iraq loud and clear, however. Faiza Al-Araji’s testimony extremely moving. A pity 43 unlikely to hear it.

    Thanks for the show.

  • dschwarz

    Hurley said:

    >Am I the only person besides Chris to have remarked Nir Rosen’s statement about

    Israel?

    I did a double-take when I heard that remark as well. Not sure what to make of it. Is Nir in favor of a future Jordanian regime breaking the peace treaty with Israel and going to war?

    I’d love to hear some followup questions and clarification on this topic!

  • dschwarz

    Just found this article written by Nir Rosen in 2002 which sums up his views on Israel rather well. Very disappointing.

  • hurley

    dschwarz: Sorry now, sort of, after all the enmity and cross-talk on recent threads, to have pointed that out. My ears still ringing. I wish he had expanded on what he meant. Chris gave him a chance. Thanks for the link.

  • Gid.

    In Reply to Plnelson’s for clarification:

    The reason to look carefully at the Iraqi state and the nature of it’s civil war before acting, and the reason that recognizing that the conflict in Iraq is a civil war is critical, is that it puts our choices in sharp relief. In a traditional civil war we could intervene by choosing sides based on our agreement with the principals of one side or the other. This is not such a circumstance… The basis of the civil war in Iraq is that the nation state no longer exists to fight over. The fighting is about delineating new borders and selecting populations for at least 3 new emerging states. We can not pick a side but we can speed up the process of partition. We can provide a modicum of security for the displaced. We can maintain a robust military presence in the region to make the neighboring powers think twice about over playing the strong hand we have witlessly dealt them.

    There are two reasons that a proactive policy of partition is not on the table. One is the fear of broader regional conflict involving Iran, Syria, and possibly Turkey the second is oil. In any sensible partition of Iraq the Shiite south receives a huge portion of the Iraqi national wealth, as do the Kurds. The Sunni are all but cut out, and Iran is handed substantial leverage over the world oil supply. This is the reason that the US must negotiate a circumstance where it is possible to maintain a significant military threat over the entire area at the end of hostilities. A cold peace in the region is good for most parties which is why I have some hope it might hold. It enhances Iranian prestige and influence, it awards the Kurds a secure state, and it places an American umbrella of power over the gulf oil producing states. The fly in the ointment is the Sunni State and their inevitable resentment over losing their share of the oil resources of Iraq. This might be a problem that could be solved with money. Might a program of aid form the Sunni gulf sates combined with War reparations from the US be sufficient to prevent the exhausted Iraqi Sunni from taking up arms against their new neighbors?

  • David Weinstein

    This will sound very naive but I think what Iraq needs is people power. Listening to the humanity, intelligence and fundamental dcency of Faiza, I just haad to wonder how many others there are like her in Iraq or in its diaspora. My quess is tht the majority of the population shares these qualities with her. A violent, intolerant or criminal minority of the people there are persuing sectarian, ‘religious’ or criminal objectives.

    One would hope that this majority would rise up, claim their power, despite the arms and ruthlessness of all the violent parties and push them out of the country. How can a people do this when the others have all the guns and bombs one might ask, when these others use fear and death as their chief tactic of control? There is also power in numbers. There is also power in basic common decency and humanity and the human spirit that will always, in the long run, trump guns, bombs and fanaticism.

  • joshua hendrickson

    David,

    When you claim that there is power in basic common decency and humanity and the human spirit, you are right.

    But when you claim that it will always, in the long run, trump guns, bombs and fanaticism, well….

    I wish I could agree with you. But I find the negative answer to this proposition already buried in an earlier sentence of your posting. You cite the arms AND RUTHLESSNESS of all the violent parties.

    Ruthlessness. There’s the rub.

    Ruthlessness is what divides “us” and “them”, human decency and fanaticism. “They” will do anything and everything to accomplish their goals. “We” will not, despite our numbers or our weapons.

    I remember the deep horror I felt when I read Orwell’s 1984, and his plain assertion, “Why should hate be less vital than love?”

    That’s it. There is no reason why it should be. We may wish it so, but…

    As I said, I want what you hope for to come true. I really do.

    But.

  • plnelson

    This will sound very naive

    You got that right!

  • David Weinstein

    Joshua,

    My response to Orwell’s chilling question of ‘Why should hate be less vital than love,’ brings me to the underlying point I was driving at. Those who practice ruthlessness and violence in Iraq today and throughout much of history do and did so with absolute belief, blind faith, if you will, that allows them to also believe that the means justify the ends. One has only to think of the absolutist belief systems of the communists and the fascists in the last century, the bloodiest known to man. Wasn’t it Mao who said that history is made at the end of a gun? He was only paraphrasing Hitler and Stalin.

    But yet… the democracies with their tenets of compromise and balance of power eventually stood up to the fascists and the communists and prevailed. Strangely Geroge W. has this kind of blind faith mixed with a belief not in the military but in militarism and so we blundered blindly into Iraq with tragic consequences. Didn’t the neo-con ideologues believe that we could remake the Middle East with our armed forces, at the end of a gun?

    I think hate and war is extremely vital but they burn themselves out. The steady state of humanity, I believe, is more in tune with the decency we heard in Faiza’s anguished words. What keeps milliions like her to go out onto the streets and sweeping these thugs and militias away? Fear for one. Fear that the armed militias will gun them down. But from what I am hearing, the militias are coming into the neighborhoods and murdering the people anyway while destroying any vestige of normal life. So why not go out in masse and tell Al Sadr to find another slum?

    What is missing is the power of belief in those like Faiza in the basic rightness of who they are and what they stand for. Ghandi was able to muster that belief in the Indian population and non-violently overthrow the greatest power on earth at the time, the British empire. One might counter that Ghandi used the power of Hinduism and thousands of years of tradition to lead this non-violent revolution. But where is that in Iraqi society, one might ask. My answer is that it would be presumptuous of me, at the very least,to say that there is no hope of a Ghandi arising in Iraq or the Middle East. Or something entirely different to counter the violence and fanaticism. I know that the Sunni-Shiite fratercide goes against basic Koranic law and morality whre it is a great sin, perhaps the greatest, for Muslims to murder Muslims.

    I think the only answer for Iraq is for people like Faiza to find a belief in the rightness and righteousness of who they are that is as strong as the fanaticism of the militias and terrorists and to act from tht strength and their numbers. One can be drakly fatalistic about more probable outcomes to the violent anarchy we stirred up in Iraq. But this lesson of quiet but resolute faith in the face of fanaticism is one we need to learn again in the west and in America in more subtle but perhaps more consequential ways for the fate of the planet.

    “…Maybe people will stare into the abyss and all get democratic. Maybe a new strongman will emerge and uniofy the place. We cannot predict it; let’s not pretend we can.”

    Exactly right, plnelson.

  • DavidO

    Like dschwarz and Hurley, above, I was confused about Rosen’s remark about Israel. There was also a comment he made about “American troops terrorizing Iraqis.” I deplore the actions of the US military at Abu Ghraib, and the killing of innocent civilians, but I also think he should be careful with statements like these: there are troops over there who are sincerely trying their best to stabilize a situation that’s tremendously violent. Furthermore, as Bob Herbert has pointed out in a number of his columns in the New York Times, the burden of this war has been unfairly placed on a small minority of Americans, many of whom initially joined the military as a way to get ahead and–and these were extremely young people. It occurs to me, in fact, that this would be a great topic for a future show: who *is* fighting this war? How do they and their families feel about it? What are the class and socioeconomic issues that determine who goes to war?

    I disagree with Rosen’s statement that Americans don’t care about this war—though I think we could care a great deal more.