By Other Words
By Donald Kaul
Iraq is a gift that keeps on giving.
We kicked out their murderous dictator for them, helped them institute democracy, poured hundreds of millions into their recovery, and tried our best to interrupt their civil war. Then we left — or at least our combat troops did.
You would think they’d be grateful, wouldn’t you? I’m not talking about an end-of-World-War-II scene of young women throwing flowers at our soldiers as they departed. Not necessarily.
But maybe a thank you would be appropriate. A salute or two wouldn’t hurt.
What do we get instead? Snarls. Insults. Cries of “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out” (which is terrifying in Arabic).
Now word comes that we’re being forced to cut our planned diplomatic presence in post-war Iraq by some 50 percent and counting. It turns out that the Iraqis don’t want us there.
After all we did for them. Why, just the bombing of their cities alone would have cost them billions if they’d had to do it themselves.
Admittedly, it’s a very large presence that we envisioned. There are some 16,000 at our embassy compound there now, 2,000 of them diplomats. To house them, the United States built a grandiose $750-million palace on a 104-acre campus in the Green Zone.
That didn’t go down too well with the Iraqis. As one Iraqi lawmaker told The New York Times:
“The U.S. had something on their mind when they made it so big. Perhaps they want to run the Middle East from Iraq, and their embassy will be a base for them here.”
In any case the Iraqi government isn’t making it easy for us. They’ve been delaying our supply convoys at the border, making it difficult to get food to our employees. Why, the Times says that supplies at the dining hall ran so low the other day that they had to ration the chicken wings.
Then there are those anonymous gunmen who keep shooting at Americans randomly.
Our security personnel — often bearded, tattooed contractors — resemble the bad guys in a Brad Pitt movie and act that way. In 2007, remember, 17 Iraqi civilians were gunned down by private contractors, an incident Iraqis seemed to take personally (even though we apologized nicely).
It reminds me a little of the early days of Iran’s regime. I was in Washington when Iranian students stormed our embassy in Tehran and took the staff hostage.
It was an intolerable insult and all patriotic Americans were pretty incensed about it. But were the Iranian students studying in this country contrite? Not on your life.
When we let the deposed Shah of Iran into United States to receive treatment for the disease that would soon kill him, Iranian exchange students took to the streets and marched to the White House, shouting (as nearly as any of us on the sidewalk could make out) “The Shah is a peanut butter.”
I leaned over to a colleague and said: “Are they saying the Shah is a peanut butter?”
“That’s what I heard,” he replied.
We were outraged. These people were in the country at our sufferance (and perhaps even with our aid) and they had the nerve to march on our streets.
I found myself waving a fist at them (one finger at a time) and yelling obscenities. So much for journalistic objectivity.
But the passage of years has convinced me that those students had justice on their side. The Shah actually was a peanut butter, as were Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak, and all the other brigands we supported at the expense of their people.
The Times says that we’re not merely cutting the Iraq embassy staff. We’re abandoning our $500-million program to train Iraqi police (for the semi-hilarious reason that it’s too risky for our police advisers to leave the embassy compound).
Mission accomplished all right.
OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.