Iraq’s Tragedy: “Nothing Is Written”

Iraq’s civil war is a metastasizing of a 7th century religious dispute over whether Ali was the first caliph or the fourth.

UnknownNow, obviously, the “firsters” are blessed by Allah, while the “fourthers” are accursed and deserve ignominious death. There’s no atrocity too far in pursuing this vendetta.

Rodney King said, “Can’t we all just get along?” Iraqis say, “Fuck that.”

This Ali business is in fact the root of the Sunni-Shiite schism. Some insist we have no dog in this fight. And it’s true that Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki has fueled the conflict by stupidly conducting himself as Shiite leader rather than leader of the whole nation.

Nouri Al-Maliki

Nouri Al-Maliki

However, bad as he is, he’s a lot less bad than those bloodthirsty ISIS/ISIL creeps (Zarqawi’s old gang), whose triumph would be ghastly. And while they probably can’t take over the country, they could effectively break off a piece of it.

I weep at this sorry denouement to the Iraq War; while its critics will again crow, “nyah, nyah, nyah.” From the narrow standpoint of America’s interests, Iraq might now be worse than we started with. But Tony Blair says today’s mess is less a consequence of Bush’s Iraq policy than of Obama’s Syria non-policy. Certainly true insofar as ISIS/ISIL grew into a monster only in consequence of Syrian developments. Unknown-1And how might things be today if we hadn’t invaded in 2003 and Saddam were still in power? Counterfactual history is a difficult discipline.

But it’s almost conventional wisdom that attempting to remake Iraq for the better in 2003 was foolhardy from the get-go. This is the Andrew Bacevich “Limits of Power” school that says don’t even try. (They love the word hubris.) Yet human beings were not put on this planet to leave well enough alone and fatalistically accept the status quo. If so, we’d still be living in caves. imagesRobert Kennedy liked to quote George Bernard Shaw: “Some see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.”

The fatalistic Bacevichian sees a society like Iraq’s as immutable, with any effort at change bound to fail. That used to be said of America’s south and its racial culture, integral to that society’s very fabric. Yet optimists were undeterred in trying to change it – and it did dramatically change. (Today, the state with the most black elected officials is Mississippi.) And in 1945, two of the world’s worst miscreants were Germany and Japan. They too were totally changed. Nothing in human affairs is immutable.

In fact, that’s in our biology. Our great evolutionary adaptation was our ability to change ourselves, when circumstances change.

So why not Iraq? You might say that’s different – a different kind of society, in a different historical situation. All true, but who could have predicted such vast change in Germany, Japan, or the U.S. South? The key difference, vis-à-vis Iraq, was vision, commitment, leadership, energy. I fault Bush not for aiming high in Iraq but for botching the shot. Iraq might have been transformed – but not by our half-assed effort. After all the human and moral capital expended in this venture, the fecklessness of the follow-through was criminal.

Unknown-2Of course Iraqis themselves bear prime responsibility. After all is said and done, we Americans did give them the opportunity for a better country, and they’ve muffed it. Because they’re not a nation of Rodney Kings. Yet still it didn’t have to be this way. Just as cultures are not immutable, nor is history an ineluctable force. Individuals matter; actions matter. It wasn’t inevitable that Iraq would get a Maliki. In fact, in the election that brought him to power, Maliki actually got fewer votes than Iyad Allawi – who might have been a different kind of visionary leader.

I’m reminded of a scene in Lawrence of Arabia. On the desert camel march, one man falls behind. Unknown-3Lawrence decides to go back for him. Another tries to stop him. “That man is finished,” he says. “It is written.”

Lawrence replies: “Nothing is written.”

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4 Responses to “Iraq’s Tragedy: “Nothing Is Written””

  1. Wolfgang Kurth Says:

    Yes Frank, but you of all people, should realize that the problem over there (most Middle-Eastern countries) is religion, and as you are certainly aware, faith cannot be argued. Sadam knew what he was up against, by ruling with an iron fist over a powder-keg of a nation. The kind of internal reforms you are advocating come only after a long period of relative calm (Christianity in Europe after the 18th century) and homogeneity of belief. That will not be the case in the Middle East until one faction triumphs over the other. Every small victory must be countered, Every tear must be avenged. Every atrocity must be returned, preferably magnified. All in the name of the Almighty. To believe that “nothing is written”, you cannot believe in the “holy scriptures”. Certainly an illustration that “Lawrence of Arabia” was not screen-written by a Muslim, and probably would not pass muster today in the eyes of Arabic critics.
    From Wikipedia: “Many complaints about the film’s accuracy centre on the characterisation of Lawrence.”
    I still maintain that we should never have gotten involved in a war in Iraq, in spite of my having been “behind” the President at that point. I just assumed he had better intelligence than he could make public at the time. I soon came to feel betrayed and duped, like most Americans.

  2. rationaloptimist Says:

    I felt betrayed by the incompetent follow-through. Of course religion is the problem — I thought I tried to say so in my first two paragraphs! But other societies have managed to accommodate religious differences peaceably. It’s a matter of growing up. See this past post!!! —

  3. rationaloptimist Says:

    “To believe that “nothing is written”, you cannot believe in the “holy scriptures” — exactly why I love that line in the film

  4. Pos baru Iraq’s Tragedy: “Nothing Is Written” | Says:

    […] Irak Tragedi: "Tidak ada Apakah Ditulis" […]

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