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Elections in Iraq; Ambivalence in America December 23, 2005

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Politics.
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Last week, I was watching the unfolding story of a democratic Iraq, and doing so with mixed emotions. I can’t decide if I am proud of my country’s foray into “nation-building” in this part of the Middle East, or if I’m ashamed of it.

On the one hand, it’s very easy for me to criticize President Bush, and more specifically Donald Rumsfeld. It would appear that, at most every turn, they seemed determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory: a premature “Mission Accomplished” photo-op, arrogance in the face of an unknown enemy, insufficient troops on the ground, and unwillingness (until recently) to accept responsibility for intelligence failures. I have no relatives or close friends in Iraq, but I have a good friend who returned (safely) from an extended tour in Afganistan, and have fretted over the wisdom of our missions in Iraq much more so than Afganistan.

Similarly, while it’s easy for me to blast the regime of Saddam, one could justifiably ask why Iraq is a logical place for us to be. If there were no WMDs, then it would seem that our venture was wrong, regardless of the good we accomplished. This is analogous to a policeman breaking into my home because he suspects I have been storing/selling illegal explosives, even though the judge has not granted a search warrant. Just because the policeman discovers that I have been torturing animals in my house doesn’t suddenly make the unlawful search and seizure acceptable. If instead the policeman lies to the judge to get the warrant (or simply accepts a suspicious tip from an informant without checking it out), does this make his actions acceptable?

Back in Iraq, the news is now filled with images of proud Iraqi nationals and expatriates with purple fingers demonstrating their participation in the democratic process. As I sat watching this with my boss (who immigrated to the US from Vietnam), I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride that somehow we had helped achieve this goal. Listening to my boss speak, I could see the hope and excitement in his eyes when he said, “I do not expect to live long enough to see something like this happen in my country, and when I see these people who have voted, I know they must have felt the same way before Saddam was removed from power.”

In a rare moment of speechlessness, I sat and thought. Here was someone who treasures the right to vote. For my boss, voting for the leaders of his adopted country is so precious, he cannot imagine why someone would not do so if they had the chance. After living for so many years under an oppressive government, he is quick to point out that “freedom is something that people will not forget, once they have a taste of it.”

I looked back to the TV, and watched more voters emerge with purple-stained fingers. I am 44 years old, and have voted in every election where I was eligible to vote. Like my boss, I can’t imagine not voting if I have the chance, and like him, I am joyful for the things that are happening in Iraq today. However, if I go back to the analogy, who wouldn’t be happy to see the dog-torturer brought to justice? Does that joy justify an unlawful search and seizure into his house for evidence of a much-different crime, one that we later discover no evidence for?

Who is hurt most? The Iraqi people seem to be swinging in favor of democracy, in spite of the collateral losses of the war. Saddam and his friends were certainly hurt or killed. Cells of anti-American terror networks have possibly been disrupted (financially and logistically), or (hopefully) crippled. Iraq’s neighbors seem uncertain about the next move of the U.S., but appear to be less worried about us than the apparently unpredictable behavior of Saddam’s Iraq. The U.S. has most certainly been hurt in loss of life; whether you make sweeping associations between the 9/11 attackers and Saddam or not, casualties to our soldiers are never trivial.

Even so, I have to ask, what about the soul of the policeman who made the decision to unlawfully search that house? Can he sleep at night? Does he toss and turn, recognizing the choice that he made to attempt to correct one wrong with another? Or, does he wrap himself up in the joy of seeing the dog-torturer safely behind bars, and ignore that he stepped outside the rules to accomplish this goal? Does he remain recalcitrant until he’s discovered and/or convicted?

Correct or not, many Americans seem to have deep doubts about the intelligence of our president. However, few doubt his commitment to what he believes. It seems plausible that a lack in the former could be the source of his appearing well-rested. Then again, the strength of the latter could explain it as well. Both factors seem on display when he speaks.

In the meantime, most of America seems to care only enough to read a headline and air their view at the water cooler. Choosing who we want making decisions like this, decisions that might lead to sleepless nights, seems to be something we just can’t get excited about.

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