I Have a Question for You

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I have a question for you. You can ponder it while all the hot air generated in Washington about the Iraq War continues to billow forth from politicians and generals.

Here’s the question: Why is it that we can take a high-school graduate, give him 16 weeks of training and ship him off to Iraq to fight when, after two years of alleged training, the Iraqis are still unable to field an army that will fight?

There is a dead fish somewhere in this woodpile. After all, most of the Iraqis have had some military experience, even combat experience, while our American high-school graduate has had none. So why can we turn a green youngster into a fighting soldier in 16 weeks, but we fail miserably when we try to do the same thing in Iraq?

Ah-ah-ah. Don’t let that racist thought get into your head. The Iraqis are just as intelligent as we are, and just as brave. Besides, being an infantryman or an infantry officer is not molecular biology or high-energy physics. Countries all over the world train youngsters to be soldiers in about 16 weeks, just as we do. Why are we failing in Iraq?

Well, Congress needs to ask more pointed questions instead of accepting the generals’ view that after all these many months there is only one Iraqi battalion capable of fighting on its own. Even that might not be true. After all, a few months ago the same generals were saying there were three Iraqi battalions able to operate independently.

We would need a full-scale, on-the-ground investigation to find the answers, and you can be sure that neither the Bush administration nor Congress will conduct one.

I don’t know the answer, but I can suggest some possibilities. One is that we really don’t want to train an Iraqi army capable of fighting on its own, because the minute we do, the pressure for us to leave Iraq will become immense. That possibility rests on the assumption that in direct contradiction to what it is telling the American people, the Bush administration intends to stay in Iraq for quite some time.

Another possibility is that the Iraqis, while capable of fighting, have no desire to fight, because they would be seen as fighting as surrogates for the American occupation. That would, indeed, not be good for their future, because sooner or later we will leave Iraq, and then the Iraqi population might decide it’s time for payback for all those who sided with us.

There are two differences between the culture in that region and our own. Actually, there are many, but these two we seem to ignore. One is that the people in Iraq do not view time in the same way we do. We are impatient. They are almost infinitely patient.

The other characteristic is a long memory, in contrast to us, who tend to act as if we all have amnesia. There is an Arab story about a man who returns home and says to his best friend: "You know that man who insulted me 40 years ago? Well, I killed him yesterday." His friend replies, "Why were you in such a hurry?"

We have a fatal tendency to believe that everybody in the world is just like us — thinks like us, has the same values as we do. This is not true. I know it is difficult for an American politician to believe, but there are still people in the world who can’t be bribed and who value personal honor more than life itself. Despite our power, we are far too ignorant to be a successful empire. We should stay home and mind our own business.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

© 2005 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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