Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Iraq: Collective Dreams

There are two dispatches from Iraq that you simply must read. Both get you inside the activities over there.

First, from Michael Yon:

We live far better on base here in Baqubah than many people who are living downtown (though there are some very nice homes), and it’s not all about money. Not at all and not in the least. When Americans move into Iraqi buildings, the buildings start improving from the first day. And then, the buildings near the buildings start to improve. It’s not about the money, but the mindset. The Greatest Generation called it “the can-do mentality.” It’s a wealth measured not only in dollars, but also in knowledge. The burning curiosity that launched the Hubble, flows from that mentality, and so does the revenue stream of taxpayer dollars that funded it. Iraq is very rich in resources, but philosophically it is impoverished. The truest separation between cultures is in the collective dreams of their people.
I knew a family who are collectively smart, beautiful and inquisitive and yet they did not have success in proportion to their resources. Surly and defensive, they seemed to look at the world as if it were an aggressor and they the perpetual victim. It made no sense. With more digging, however, I learned that the family came out of poverty. Rather than moving to the vibrant part of town once they made some money, they lived "on the wrong side of the tracks". They socialized with the hopeless and criminal and walked around with a chip on their shoulders from those days. They do not view themselves as others view them: as intelligent and talented. They see themselves as loners, outsiders, downtrodden. It doesn't matter what other people see. It only matters how they see themselves. They are trapped by their own self-limitations. Aren't we all?

Next, to Michael Totten, who got the fire scared out of him chasing al Qaeda in Bagdhad. It is a sobering and maddening tale--one that includes a militarized Mosque that is untouchable due to rules of engagement. It is also humorous. Michael is no stranger to danger and yet he's more than a little spooked on his adventure and his writing neatly conveys his fear:
Suddenly the soldiers started walking back in the direction we came from – toward the men who were following us and who hid in the shadows.

“We’re walking toward them?” I said to the soldier next to me. I still couldn’t tell who was who. “Are they still there?” I still couldn’t see them.

“They’re still there,” he said. “We’re pushing back to see what they do.”

For the first time since I arrive in Iraq, I wished I had a weapon myself. When I couldn’t stay in the shadows, I zigzagged at random to make myself a much more difficult target.

Eddie sidled up beside me.

“Stay right next to me,” he said. “If there’s shooting I’ll get you in the safest possible place.” The safest possible place, I thought, was outside Iraq. “If it escalates…” He trailed off.

“If it escalates…what?” I said.

“If it escalates we’ll deal with it,” he said.

“Four more to west,” said a soldier. “They’re running.”

This time I could see them – four men rounding a corner and running away down a street. They were more afraid of us than we were of them.

“Does this kind of thing happen around here a lot?” I said to Eddy.

“It happens,” he said.
It happens.