Friday, July 31, 2009

Mission Accomplished?

As the U.S. withdraws from an active role in Iraqi affairs to military bases and then home, Iraqi leaders step up to the plate. Here's one story told by a U.S. soldier of a ceremony to re-open a bridge crossing an open sewer dividing Sunni and Shia communities, an event made possible only because Americans slogged it out hard with blood and spent treasure heavily for five years to reduce sectarian conflict:

In the 120 degree heat, we listened to readings from the Quoran, poetry from local civilians, and speeches from top generals. They talked about the great things the Iraqi Army has done and the secure future that is in store for the Iraqi people. Everyone felt good about themselves; you could feel it in the air.

As we stood to move to the ribbon cutting and bridge crossing there was an announcement. A couple of the religious leaders wanted to make statements. Everyone obliged and returned to their seats.

Sunni and Shia both stood and made the same claims. My translator began to speak, “A day of brotherhood, unity, and security. There was to be only one people; Iraqi Muslims. No more Sunni, no more Shia…..”

My translator stopped speaking.

“What are they saying?” I asked.

“You don’t want to know.”

“Tell me.”

“Okay, sir. Coalition Forces and Terrorists are no long welcome in this country.” my translator stated.

Because we've given the Iraqis more than they can ever hope to repay, they must take the attitude that they owe us nothing at all - that it was the Americans who brought terror to their country and gave nothing in return.

Very much like the French who complained there was no fighting in Normandy until the Americans landed. Remember, the first speech DeGaulle gave after the Allied liberation of Paris was to give all credit to the French for the liberation. Not one word about British and American forces - and no word about collaborators, either.

Five years ago I wrote:
We Americans put too much faith in gratitude. The fond feeling the French had for us twice saving them faded in the 1960's. The Germans want to forget their debts to us for freedom and unification... Both want - desperately - to believe the U.S. today is just as bad as they were in their imperial days -- to lessen their collective feelings of guilt and moral inferiority, and to justify their refusal to stand side-by-side with the United States...Gratitude goes even less far in the Arab world. Arabs today have, at best, selective memories; at worst, they believe their own lies, and, by the noise of repetition, impress it into others...

...the Iraqis must feel that they created their own democracy, not one imposed by an "empire"...In the end, they may feel angry with us, but if they succeed, they will be a real, confident, country, one that will stand up for democratic values, like El Salvador is today -- not wilted lettuces like France and Germany. We want an Iraq that won't tolerate terrorists in its midst." link

But all we got was an Iraq that doesn't tolerate terrorists, and that may change. The Iraqis now have a republic of sorts - if they can keep it. I sense we are leaving without the values of democracy rooted in the government - the people don't feel empowered, as the Americans did with their (mildly) corrupt state governments after the Revolutionary War.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Pakistan's War

Since April, the tide of Pakistani opinion has turned:
"The Pakistani media had lost both its fear and its illusions about extremists, who had once been portrayed as ‘Robin Hood’ figures" link
In contrast with earlier operations, the Pakistani Army is working very aggressively. link The turning point in Pakistani public opinion was the widely-circulated video of a teenage girl in Swat being punished for khulwa, being seen by a man not her family. Pakistanis decided that such punishment wasn't what they wanted.

True to form, the Taliban's leaders have resorted to increasingly brutal and intimidating methods to maintain their rule over their forces and their captive population:
Baitullah Mehsud ordered 18 of his wounded men slaughtered before retreating in the face of the army operation going on against him. The men lost their lives because they were no longer fit to keep up with the rest as they made good their escape. Seeing the operation unfolding effectively against the TTP, the parents of the boys he had shanghaied into his suicide-bomber training camps begged him to release their offspring. He refused. Baitullah is showing signs of being under pressure by employing savage tactics of retaliation too. Anyone who speaks against him inside the vast tracts occupied by the various warlords is liable to get killed. As he moves from one safe place to another safe place to avoid being hit by the Pakistan jets, he is carefully monitoring his rivals within the Taliban and eliminating them.

Unfortunately the government's success in winning over the populace by the technique of letting the Talibs show how bad they can be rather than fighting the Talibs in the first place means they can continue to be corrupt, rather than face popular pressure to reduce corruption and improve governance.

Luckily, some newspapers realize that: Practical Democracy

Even as the Taliban find themselves caught between the American hammer and the Pakistani forge, even as Pakistan and the U.S. now share a common enemy, Pakistanis themselves do not see the U.S. as a friend link. I consider this a sure measure of the failure of America's current Public Diplomacy efforts - cooperation is quiet, rather than overt and celebrated. Even under Obama, Pakistanis still feel that the goal of the U.S. president is "to impose American culture on the Islamic world, and 90 percent supported the notion that he wanted to weaken and divide the Muslim world". In IDP camps the Americans are told to work quietly, while Islamists preach jihad openly - as a condition for refugees to receive their aid. (Reminds me of the folks who tried to sell me a time-share during my honeymoon in exchange for a lift.)

I wonder what the next generation of Pakistanis will think - both of their elders and of the U.S.