Friday, July 25, 2003

Many Iraqis Skeptical That Oudai and Qusai Are Dead

So says an article in today's Chicago Tribune. "For every believer, there seemed to be a non-believer," the story reports.

When the reports of the infamous brothers' deaths were confirmed a couple of days ago, many, including some in the Bush administration, predicted that this would be a major blow to the Fedayeen and Baath loyalists. Some voiced the belief that this turn of events would help our troops to more quickly roll up the remaining opposition in Iraq. But more American soldiers were ambushed and killed two days later, and the Fedayeen have vowed revenge for Saddam Hussein's sons. Indeed, it seems likely that more guerilla actions will be inspired by the brothers' deaths.

I haven't commented much on the war or subsequent events in Iraq, mainly because I, like many other Catholics, was genuinely ambivalent about the undertaking. But it seems increasingly clear to me that many Americans, including some in the Bush administration, have grossly underestimated the challenge in Iraq. Our presence is greeted with hostility and resentment by a large percentage of Iraqis, and they are inclined to disbelieve anything we say:

[O]n the streets of Baghdad, some Iraqis wondered why the Americans waited so long to let the public view the photos. Others had suspicions that the photos were doctored.

"I'm not sure it was them," said Ghaydan Yatooma, 33, a liquor merchant. "All the Iraqi people are not so sure."

We have succeeded in imposing peace (of a sort) on much of Iraq. But American soldiers are now cautioned to travel only while heavily armed and in groups. Many Iraquis "accept" our presence, but their attitude is that of sullen resignation. Our troops are not treated as liberators, but as occupiers granted varying degrees of toleration. I frankly see little evidence that we are winning the battle for the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqi people.

The atmosphere in Iraq, like in much of the Arab world, is virulent mixture of religious fanaticism, ideology,and societal paranoia. I have always thought it a naive fantasy to believe that we could somehow impose a Pax Americana on the region and create, almost out of thin air, some sort of "democratic" government in Iraq. If one looks at the region, you will find there is no Arab state which has a truly democratic government. What could possibly lead one to believe that somehow Iraq will be different?

We have created the Iraqi Governing Council, and no doubt this will in some way, at some time, lead to an "elected" government in Iraq that has the US stamp of approval. But I fear, and predict, that such a government will quickly go the way of the Weimar Republic, and lead to yet another despotic regime there. The Fanaticism, Ideology and Paranoia which is characteristic of much of Islam will roll over such a government and establish the sort of Sharia state we see elsewhere. Indeed, Islam would tolerate no other kind of regime.

I think that President Bush and most Americans were sincere in believing our cause in Iraq to be just, and our intervention there justified. But I also think that we have entangled ourselves in situation from which we will not easily extricate ourselves. Good intentions and the conviction of our own rectitude are not enough.