Thursday, March 15, 2007
If you've got will and a little time, use it tonight:
BAGHDAD -- I suppose there are better uses of my time now than putting together a Facebook account, but there's a post-lunch calm in the storm of the Combined Press Information Center. A fine fellow named Ned who writes for the Times of London asked if I knew when I'd be getting to Ramadi. Sadly, I had to reply that CPIC doesn't yet have an embed slot for me out there. This morning, I was told to check back at 5 o'clock to learn if anything's changed, so for the next few hours, it's Facebook for me.

Across the street is the famous al-Rashid hotel. It's an eerie feeling to enter the place. Ornate as it remains, it emits a certain sepulchral air, like the Saddam-era Information Ministry that used to work there remains a ghostly presence. It was nearly empty when I arrived for lunch with two Iraqi friends-of-a-friend, whom I'll call S and A. I'm told the place is a favored hangout for Saleh Mutlaq and his coterie, but the dining room of the enormous hotel restaurant -- it used to be a wedding hall -- didn't feature any famous faces.

Both S and A feel the security plan is going to turn everything around. People are just too exhausted to keep killing one another, they said -- expect results by the late summer. S asked me if I favored withdrawal, and I told her I did. Polite as she is, I could tell that was the wrong answer for her: S expressed admiration for Ahmed Chalabi -- who else could have deceived America into liberating Iraq? she enthused -- and mentioned that during the 2004 election, she e-mailed the White House to tell President Bush that she would vote for him if she was eligible.

In response to a commenter on one of my Tapped posts, I asked S and A what they made of General Saleh's contention that Iraq's at the mercy of the Lost Generation born during the Iran-Iraq war. Not surprisingly, they felt it was overheated, but contained an element of truth. The roots of the country's present sectarianism, A said, are rooted not in some ancient struggle between Shiite and Sunni but in the disintegration of the nation as an ideal. Saddam ruined the very idea of national solidarity through his brutality and corruption, A said. Through two futile wars and a devastating era of sanctions, Iraqis learned to associate Iraq with Saddam, and so their hatred of Saddam transfered to a hatred of Iraq -- or at least reduced national identity to a more circumscribed sense of identity, located in tribe or sect or family. As a result, Iraq exploded with the invasion, and patriotism has become an outmoded virtue.

If that's the case, then for S and A to expect the surge to re-knit Iraq (or at least Baghdad), then one of two things would need to be true. Either the surge would have to be a cataclysmic, epochal national experience; or it would need to wipe out the Lost Generation entirely. But it's at least barometrically revealing that the Baghdad security plan is something that Iraqis as well as Americans are clinging to as a repository of hope. Explaining to S why I had little faith in the plan was awkward: it felt to me as if I was casually taking her hopes away. I felt I owed her an honest answer to her question, but still I felt callous. Is this premature guilt for advocating withdrawal?
--Spencer Ackerman

I've been appreciating your posts a great deal. This premonition of guilt is something I can relate to. I had many conversations in Suli last year in which I tried to explain why I couldn't support Bush. In all of them I could sense that my understanding of politics in America was brushing up against the ideals of my hosts, who really were staking their future (in Kurdistan at least) on the American project.

The trick I suppose is to be honest without being snarky, or to acknowledge the good we all hope will come of this while recognizing that the people in charge aren't exactly of high caliber.

P.S. Pictured you as older.
Blogger Jonathan Dworkin | 10:23 PM