Winning hearts does not come under this branch of journalism. The column business deals mainly with the mind. Expressing viewpoints may have less to do with persuasion than registering an opinion.
To say someone looks like the better candidate is not predicting an election’s result, for example. All it really guarantees is hardcore enmity from the opposition, which has sometimes proved pretty nasty. But generally in time things cool off. Not always. Still.
No subject over the past 20 years provoked anger to match my columns before the Iraq invasion on March 19, 2003. A local poll taken before the invasion reported two-thirds of the people surveyed wanted me banished: Iraq was not the question, but folks in this conservative and patriotic area reacted strongly to my argument against a war that, I said, had to fail.
Dirty looks were common. There were some names my mother wouldn’t like. Having seven years in uniform counted for nothing. I must have been a coward, the reasoning went, for suggesting American lives should not be expended on the Butcher of Baghdad. That was my entire point.
Having lived and worked in the Arab area, I knew they were people who fight stubbornly for their homes and lands. In one column, while acknowledging Saddam Hussein’s army figured to go down and out fast, I warned that urban warfare did not require divisions and massive technology.
There’s no joy in having been proved right. Human beings are still dying over there.
What I still want is what all that newsprint shouting was about. I want our people back. Let the Iraqis solve their own problems. There are signs some folks in Washington are beginning to understand. Unfortunately, the damage to America’s image may be permanent.
The Washington Post and ABC News released results of a national survey Wednesday. Six out of ten respondents now feel the war is not worth fighting. Nearly 75 percent find the casualty rate “unacceptable.” The survey indicates a growing number (now 40%) believe Iraq has become another Vietnam.
For the first time since the war began, the Post reported, “more than half of the American public believes the fight there has not made the United States safer.”
How could it? Unlike Desert Storm’s freeing Kuwait and making Saudi Arabia safer, our forces were ordered in on weak pretexts, which moreover have proven false. Anti-American riots are fairly common in the Muslim world, which sees America’s presence as another form of colonialism and worse: Millions believe we are fighting Islam. A Kentucky Fried Chicken store was burned down in Pakistan earlier this week; six Muslim employees died when the mob wouldn’t let them out.
Bringing democracy to Baghdad defies both history and logic. I have been in two Asian Muslim nations, Bangladesh and Malaysia, which have elected governments. Dhaka relies entirely on other nations to survive. Their political parties mainly provide entertainment and a means of letting off steam. Kuala Lumpur features administrations made up chiefly of Muslim Malaysians, but the country really operates under local Chinese hands.
If bringing democracy to an Arab capital could work, the likely location is Cairo. Egyptians have the Muslim world’s highest percentage of educated citizens. They also are remarkably European-ized. Their language reeks of words borrowed from Italian and French, for example. Hosny Mubarak, however, runs a totalitarian state that treats freedom of speech as a commodity too valuable to be shared by everyone.
Putting the Butcher of Baghdad on trial should provide diversion for those few who really care what happens. He had lost his super monster status long before the appearance of that front page picture showing his baggy underwear.
Hammering out some form of armistice that might permit a ceremonial departure by U.S. forces was made infinitely harder the other day. With major control of the future government already ensured, the chief imam gave his blessings to the Shiite militias, registering as strongly as possible his mistrust of any national army.
Richard Nixon had the right idea. Mr. Bush should declare victory and bring everyone home. I’ve said that before.
One totally new personal dimension grew up over the past couple of years. Christopher George Meachum went through armor basic at Fort Knox and shipped out to California for more training. Twice my grandson came up on orders to ship out to Iraq; both times the orders were canceled. We know about the charming third time.