Not Worth a Camel


A deluge of experts, attracted by government money, is drowning Washington. So many elected and appointed officials know even less than the phony experts that it’s like a gold-rush town for the briefcase-toting fast-talkers.

You, however, don’t need to be an expert — phony or genuine — to figure out the broad outlines of the problems in the world. A simple dose of common sense will do the job.

Let’s take Iraq, for example. This is a country artificially created by the British in the heyday of their colonial empire. Arbitrarily included were Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites. The British put the Sunnis in charge under various dictators who kept a lid on the aspirations of the majority Shiites and the independence-craving Kurds. The lid was kept on by brute force through a succession of dictators, ending with Saddam Hussein.

It was like a jack-in-the-box, and when the Bush administration took the lid off, out popped the factions. Are the Kurds going to give up their aspirations for independence? Not likely. Are the Sunnis going to go quietly into the sunset with nothing? Not likely. Are the Shiites, after decades of repression, going to come forth with kindness and forgiveness for their former oppressors? Not likely.

The conflict we see playing out has been there for decades. Didn’t anybody in Washington ever wonder why Saddam Hussein killed so many people? He was always a thug and a killer, but even killers don’t waste bullets and poison gas unless they have a reason to do so. Saddam, like his predecessors, was constantly trying to prevent the Kurds and Shiites from overthrowing him. Now, with no dictator to suppress them, they are killing each other.

I would say that when more than 6,000 people are killed in two months, it’s about as close to a civil war as you can get. I cannot think of any logical reason why anyone in Washington thought that we could remove a dictatorship that had been in place in one form or another since the founding of the country and that a parliamentary democracy would bloom instantly like a lotus in a pond.

To further complicate matters, there are Kurds in eastern Syria, eastern Turkey and northwestern Iran. Do you think Syria or Iran, and most especially Turkey, will tolerate an independent Kurdistan on its borders? Not likely.

Discussion in Washington is usually carried on at the level of college freshmen after several rounds of beers. The Republican answer to its own fiasco is to say: "OK, you don’t like the way the president is handling it. What’s your solution?"

The proper answer to that is: "In the first place, bro, I didn’t break it. You did, and the only solution is to recognize that there is no solution. Not everything that breaks can be repaired. Our choice is to leave now, with 2,700 dead and 20,000 wounded, or linger on until there are 5,000 dead and 35,000 wounded and then leave."

Eventually, after we leave, a new dictatorship will emerge, probably a Shiite version. The Shiites might keep the trappings of democracy like Egypt, but there will be no question about who runs the show. They will have a strong secret police and an army to shut down the dissidents.

Hopefully by then we will have elected some people who know the difference between con artists and real experts whose expertise is grounded on personal experience and a knowledge of the language, culture and history of the areas for which they claim knowledge.

Then, when we find a basket from which are coming the sounds of snakes, we won’t be so foolish as to take the lid off and then be surprised when the snakes don’t magically turn into bunny rabbits.

In the meantime, use your common sense. Ask yourself just what it is that America’s young men and women are dying for. To make Iraq a happy place? To make Israel feel safer? To help corporations with insider connections get richer? Not one of those reasons is worth the life of a camel, much less a human being.

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