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Revisiting Iraq

When we were teenagers, my brother and I lived in Iran for three years and traveled throughout the Middle East.

We went to high school in the city of Shah-in Shah, and we enjoyed a great educational experience at the International School. We traveled to Afghanistan and other countries with the photography club and to Cairo with sports teams. There we had opportunities we never would have had in the US, to learn about ancient languages and cultures.

Most importantly, we learned to respect the different cultures and beliefs of the people there.

On one photography trip through the city of Yazd in the Southeast region of Iran, we came upon two groups of people fighting in the street. They were attacking each other with rocks and sticks. Our guide explained it was a religious conflict between Sunnis and Shiite sects. They allowed us pass without disturbing us, although there were no police or military to stop them, and no guns were fired. Out teacher explained the history of conflict between these sects of Islam dated to the 7th century, when ideological differences caused a schism.

We returned to the US after the beginning of the Revolution in 1979 but took with us important lessons. One was that a person’s own country is theirs – they decide how to govern it, no matter how we perceive it to be. It is not our right to dictate to others their form of government or whether their morality fits snugly with our morality.

My brother and I loved being in the Middle East with its diversity of culture and people. We grew to accept and respect cultures different from ours.

The recent scenes of killing in Iraq are truly a grotesque tragedy. There are plenty of pundits lining up to analyze why Iraq has descended into chaos. The experts of the Bush era leave out their untruthful justifications of that war.

The US and its allies were never justified in going to war there in the first place. Yet even after their lies were exposed, a subsequent administration continued the fighting there for year after year sending more service persons, while habituating Americans to war as if it were a favorite garment worn day after day. Many thousands of military servicemen and women were sent back and forth to fight that war–three, four and five times–expending what little vitality they had to give, until they returned completely broken.

The inhumanity of government officials was revealed when, over and over, they sent sons and daughters to a war which was a lie, and continued to send them even after it was known to be a lie.

Shame on them.

As adults, my brother and I both joined the Marines. While I left the military in the 1980′s, he stayed and eventually served three tours in Iraq. In his last tour he volunteered as a civil affairs representative to assist Iraqis in setting up independent radio and television stations. He was one of the first bloggers to write about his daily experiences there. In uplifting ways, he told the story of Iraqis he met there. Although they were different culturally, in many ways they were really a lot like us.

Then one day his blogging stopped. I’ll never forget the fateful phone call I got late that night. He and an attorney advising on women’s rights in the new Iraqi constitution were executed along with their interpreter. A decade later my family still feels the pain of that day.

With the recent upheaval, I’ve been revisiting Iraq, asking myself what business did we have there in the first place? What was our government’s objective there? Was it a profound one, to help other people in need? Or was it born of a selfish desire to to force “democratic” ideals on others?

Americans who advocate for continued military intervention in Iraq or anywhere else neither understand other cultures, nor respect the Iraqis or other people.

UNHCR Helps Displaced in Erbil

Displaced Iraqi children / Photo by UNHCR

President Bush’s cowboy swagger and his justification for invading Iraq based on untruths and “faulty intelligence” was not respect.

The relentless US corporate military industrial machine forms the center piece of much of the misery and fighting in the Middle East. It is not a path to diplomacy there, and it never will be. It won’t work in the South China Sea either. Wherever there is world conflict, the US and its corporate military influence are often embroiled within it somehow.

There is too much talk of war and labeling others as terrorists to justify military intervention abroad. Such talk perpetuates warfare and eliminates possibilities of achieving peaceful relations.

The U.S. is creating a climate of fear abroad by its own actions in an endless cycle of bombing, invading and attacking others. Drone warfare, sending troops to endless wars and exporting military hardware for profit contribute to it. The U.S. must stop bombing others with drones and act with contrition for the people it has harmed. The U.S. is creating fear in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan by drones bombing there. And their fear will return to us someday with furious anger. By creating endless cycles of conflict the US moves farther from opportunities to work with local communities to understand and help solve regional issues.

The US should not be the one to fix everything wrong in the world. Americans will eventually wise up to the faux threat of terrorism. Scare-mongering has led to a bloated $700 billion defense budget, eclipsing the next closest discretionary spending category by tenfold.

The U.S. does not promote good intentions abroad with sales of war material to others. And what’s worse, many Americans seem unwilling to challenge the government about it. By the people not taking necessary steps to reel in government defense spending, the taxpayers in effect condone it by paying for it.

Maybe such ideas are wishful thinking and perhaps mindful thinking is not possible of the U.S. in the present military corporate construct. But responsible relationship with others in the world will not come to pass if the US does not change. But I hope it does.

I’d like the U.S. to take responsibility for its misguided foreign policies in the Middle East, to stop dragging soldiers and their families into unjust wars and campaigns, and show humility by forging meaningful, long-lasting relationships with people abroad.

Considering the U.S. and its own responsibility to itself, it is the US taxpayers who are paying for these wars. We depend on our government to be honest with us, but we are also responsible. Officials deciding to fight wars need conspirators. What of the ones that are funding it, the taxpayers? When Americans fail to stop their leaders from committing arbitrary and unjust acts of war, then they are complicit and equally responsible.

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