I lay out my confused, uncertain arguments for war and my firm stance against dead, manlged rats and rainy houses in Israel.
I’ve been getting so many emails from friends in the states and Europe telling me about how they’re going to rallies against the war and hoping the rallies will be big. I have to say that sitting here, it just seems strange to be completely against the war. The biggest influence on my inability to just be against the war is that every single Iraqi I speak with is desperately for this war. They’re not just kind of into it, they look panic-stricken if I ask a question suggesting the war might not happen. I have spoken to, I don’t know, four or five dozen Iraqis. Maybe they’re not a representative sample. They all are refugees who escaped Iraq, so they might be skewed. More of them are Shiite than Sunni. And of all the Iraqis I spoke with two or three did say they don’t want the war, but every one of the people who said they were anti-war were heading back to Baghdad and it seemed obvious they were afraid to say anything against Saddam. The people who are for the war all have family in Iraq. Many have children there, wives, husbands. And when I ask if it is worth any cost’dincluding the cost of the death of their own children’to get rid of Saddam, the answer is always the same. Yes, it’s worth any cost. I don’t get the sense that the fact that most Iraqis want this war is widely reported in the US. I’ve reported it a bunch. But that one fact makes it very hard for me to be simply anti-war. Who are the rallies for, if not the people of Iraq? So, if the people of Iraq want the war, doesn’t that change things?
I should say that most Iraqis I’ve spoken with are no fans of Bush. In fact, they blame both Bushes for a lot of bad things and most of them are convinced that Saddam has been working for the Bushes all along. That they want an excuse to create army bases in the Arab world and Saddam gives it to them. Nobody thinks that Bush is doing this to help the Iraqi people. Nobody really trusts him at all. Many want him to get rid of Saddam but think that he’dll put someone worse in afterwards. They all think Bush just wants Iraqi oil and wants to help Israel. (The Mossad-CIA Sept. 11th conspiracy’dcomplete with 4,000 missing Jews from the World Trade Center’dis as popular among Iraqis as any Arab). They have personal reasons to hate the Georges Bush. Many of these Iraqis participated in the massive uprising against Saddam that Bush Dad called for and then abandoned. They lost friends, lost hope. Most of the Iraqis are as anti-American as everyone in the Arab world. But they are making a conscious calculus that Saddam is so bad, that he just destroys every life in Iraq, so whatever evil America does will be better. My favorite Iraqi, a guy I visit a few times every week, said the other day that Iraq may have to give up an entire generation of people’dmillions and millions’dand it’s worth it. That no matter how bad the war is, fewer people will die than Saddam would kill.
The other thing making it hard to be totally anti-war is talking to Jordanians and Syrians and Palestinians. I would say every single non-Iraqi Arab is completely against the war. But most are not in any sort of camp that includes liberal or lefty Americans and Europeans. I’ve certainly met many educated, more Western-leaning Jordanians, who are against all war and against American imperialism on similar grounds to American and European. But most of the Arabs I talk with are against the war in a real clash-of-civilizations, we’dll-kill-you-bastards kind of way. People are always very polite to me and I’ve heard again and again that there is no anger against Americans, but only against the American government. But it is common to hear people say they want to be suicide bombers or they want to kill American soldiers. It is extremely common to hear that Islam will conquer the west very soon. I’m not saying we should go to war with Islam or that this anger is a reason to be anti-war. But I’m sure that in the states being anti-war seems like a pro-peace kind of thing, obviously. It seems like there are two choices’dviolence or peace’dand you want the peace. Here it doesn’t feel like that. It feels like there are extremely difficult decisions all around and pretty much every decision will lead to violence eventually. I am not convinced at all, but I think it is possible this war will lead to less violence in the long run. Probably not. I know for certain that if America screws this up’dif post-war Iraq really does become an American colony, and American soldiers are everywhere and Arabs get the sense that America wants to take over the region, the violence and terrorism and hatred will grow exponentially. But I do think there is a shot, if America does it right’dquick war, few civilian casualties, year-long military occupation leading to more democratic, prosperous Iraq’that this war will do a lot of good. There, I said it. (I’m terrified to write these things, because I feel like all my friends will get mad at me. I’m sure I would feel the same as everyone in the states if I were there, but this is what I’m seeing here.)
Long-term it does seem like the only solution to the Mideast misery is to someone promote democratic regimes throughout the region. I hear so often from intellectuals that people will not be so violent and conspiracy-theory prone if they have mature, responsible outlets for their views. But from the standpoint of American safety (which might not be the right standpoint) democracy is scary, since it does seem likely that Islamic parties will take over most countries and if the entire region becomes like Iran, America and the West are kind of screwed. Overall, being here does not make me feel like I have more answers or more understanding. It makes everything feel more complicated and difficult and confusing.
I will say that one aspect of the anti-War protests that I find despicable is that there is so little energy put into calling for Saddam to be ousted through other means. This man is so horrible. I probably don’t have to tell you, but he has created a terror state of constant fear and arbitrary death and economic misery. There are all these protesters swinging through Amman on their way to Baghdad and none of them protests Saddam in Baghdad. They can’t. they’dll go to jail. Their Iraqi sponsors will be killed. Why can’t there be anti-war, anti-Saddam protests. Imagine going to the Reichstag in 1941 to protest American imperialism against Hitler. That’s exactly what it feels like. I think that when this war is over and reporters and others get in to Iraq freely, we’re going to find that Saddam was much worse even than we know now’dmore deaths, more torture, more misery.
I can’t say every reporter I know is pro-war. But most are and most were devoutly anti-war before they came to the region. Almost none of the are Bush fans, some are big lefties. It just is very hard to see this as a black/white thing here. I don’t think I’d go to a pro-war rally, but I can’t imagine going to an anti-war rally.
I’m in Tel Aviv and it is so miserable, I can’t tell you. I’ve been staying in this lovely 5-star hotel in Amman. (It’s relatively cheap because there is no tourism). Anything I want, I pick up the phone. Now I’m in this house I rented. It is so depressing I want to cry. This house is freezing cold even on the warmest day and today is not a warm day, so it’s freezing and miserable. There are the cats I’ve written about, who are literally constantly whining. One is whining at me right now. While I’m petting them, they whine if I lift my hand for a fraction of a second. Yesterday, I discovered that they left me a gift’da mangled dead rat in the living room. It’s sitting right there now, I’m leaving soon and decided not to clean it up myself. I try not to look at it but sometimes I can’t help myself. Yuck. The bedroom is the coldest, most miserable part of the house, so I heat it with an electric heater which makes it so hot I can’t breathe. It is raining so hard, a house-shaking, scary kind of rain. I feel trapped in here. I’m so excited that today I am packing up and will be leaving this place for good. I’m preparing for the war. I’m moving all my stuff to Amman, since I know I’dll be going into Baghdad as soon as the war is over and stay there for a long time. I am so happy to never see this place again. But I have another 24 hours and I just want to leave.
I’m trying to think through what I want to get here before I go back to Amman tomorrow. I want to get some music, since Israel has a much wider selection than Amman and certainly than Baghdad. I can get music, because I can load the songs on my iPod. But I can’t buy too much here, because I can’t be carrying around Hebrew writing. And that Hebrew sneaks up on you. I bought some batteries here last time and then when I went to Syria I forgot I had them. I was about to get my bags checked by police one day when I bribed them (through this kid) not to. Thank god. Sitting on top of everything were those batteries with big Hebrew writing on the package. A friend is preparing a package of New Yorkers. You can’t get them in Amman. I’m excited about that. A few months worth.
Last time I was here’da few weeks ago’dnobody was talking about the upcoming war and the possibility of Tel Aviv being bombed again and this time with chemical or biological weapons. Now it’s the main topic. People are a bit scared but not overwhelmed, at least the ones I’ve spoken with. They are very curious about when the war will start exactly. That’s the actual main topic’dmore than whether or not they’dll be gassed. I don’t sense massive fear at all. Concern. Preparation. Most people seem convinced that Tel Aviv won’t be attacked this time.
I have to pay my US bills, since I don’t know when I’dll have a chance to do so again. I’m realizing just how busy and strange my next few months are going to be. I’m going to be working hard all this week on Jordan stories, then off to Kuwait, then the war will start’dI hope to be back in Amman’dand then I’dll get into Baghdad as soon after the war as I can and stay there for a few months. Not to be dramatic, but it feels like today is my last semi-lazy day for a long time.