Sunday, December 11, 2005

Iraq I: Everyone Can See the Tunnel, But Where's the Light? by Country Bumpkin

Rummaging in my bookcase yesterday, I came across Herman Wouk's 1978 novel, "War and Remembrance", among whose many fine characteristics is its quality as history of WWII. Wouk's narrative devices include the "work" of a fictional German field officer, Armin van Roon, who writes his own version of the war. The book's protagonist, Victor Henry, answers a claim of van Roon with which he disagrees, thus:
As for Roon's assertion that 'Americans cannot take battle losses,' I have heard that a little too often from Europeans. A Russian general once told Eisenhower that his way of clearing a minefield was to march a couple of brigades through it. We Americans fight differently, when we can. Yet in the Civil War we fought some of the most sanguinary battles in history, and the South was living on grass and acorns when it quit. Nobody knows yet what the American people can do in the last extremity.
Does Wouk's 1970s statement mean anything today?

The first question is whether the Iraq war has reached, or is threatening to reach, a "last extremity" for America. We foreigners might be tempted to think so, if we read only the opposing speeches of Dean, Kerry and Murtha. There haven't been many defending speeches from George Bush and those not entirely convincing, though this at last seems to be changing.

The second question is whether there are any signs of progress in Iraq, and in the tussle between the West and Islam. Let's introduce some fresh material into this well-worn argument.

A young Canadian man, Harmeet Singh Sooden. lives, or rather lived in Auckland, New Zealand with his sister and her family. He is a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams who gained notoriety when Rachel Corrie, one of their number, was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer. The Teams are not friendly to Israel, and therefore the Middle East policies of the USA, but let us assume that they have a genuine desire to see reconciliation between Christianity and Islam.

The other day, the Swords of Righteousness Brigade (who? never heard of them!) in Iraq kidnapped Harmeet and three of his colleagues and threatened to kill them if all Iraqi prisoners in Iraq were not released within 48 hours. The deadline was extended by another 48 hours, and this has passed now too. So far, no fresh news.

Except this: Muslim emissaries from Canada and Britain have travelled to Iraq to negotiate the release of the captives. Sunni Arab clerics in Iraq have pleaded for their release.

Now, that's new! Muslim advocates for Western captives of Muslim groups? There has surely been no precedent for this, and long may it continue, because this has been the missing element in the Islam/West conflict. After 9/11 Palestinians were filmed dancing with joy, and there has been a deafening silence from the rest of the Muslim world as atrocity after atrocity has been perpetrated over the last 4 years. Is this starting to change? Is this the tiny glimmer of light at the end of that dark tunnel? Has the "Arab street" begun to stir from its slumber?

The point, I suppose, finally boils down to this. Americans can beat themselves up about their involvement in Iraq until the cows come home, but despite the foolishness of the Democratic leadership it is clear that most Americans want to stay the distance.

You must! This is not a "last extremity" and time, it is starting to seem, is on your side.

No comments: