“It doesn’t resolve any problems. She’s just talking,” said Shaimma Salman, 27, manager of an Iraqi construction firm.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an unannounced trip to Iraq yesterday. Unlike President Barack Obama, who flew into the country last month during a sandstorm, Clinton was able to shuttle to the gargantuan U.S Embassy for a televised “town hall meeting” with a (likely handpicked and cooperative) Iraqi audience to assure we won’t abandon the country altogether once the U.S makes its planned departure — first from the cities (supposedly) by this summer, and completely by 2011.
Does the lady protest too much?
Clinton’s arrival came 24 hours after the most deadly of insurgent bomb blasts in recent times. More than 160 people were killed in two days. U.S officials have been scrambling to explain away the violence, most notably Sec. Def. Robert Gates, who said in weirdly Cheney-like fashion earlier this month, that it was the “last gasp” of Al Qaeda in Iraq (he later recanted). But Clinton’s comments yesterday on the subject were oddly familiar.
Clinton played down the latest burst of violence, telling reporters she saw “no sign” it would reignite the sectarian warfare that ravaged the country in recent years. She said that the Iraqi government had “come a long, long way” and that the bombings were “a signal that the rejectionists fear Iraq is going in the right direction.”
The statement, “come a long, long way,” is certainly fungible. If you are talking about stanching the violence (mostly through sectarian cleansing, walling off neighborhoods, paying off insurgents) that erupted after the U.S invasion in 2003, then yes, Iraq has come a long way. Looking at Iraq today through the lens of other metrics: quality of life, including health, education, freedom from fear, corruption, poverty and tyranny, Iraqis may have “come a long way,” but where did they go? That is up for serious debate — and the streets don’t lie.
The Iraq that Clinton most certainly did not see: Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV of “Baghdad: City of Walls” by Iraqi-born Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, a gripping portrayal of the director’s hometown, haunted by ghosts and grieving, scarred and inconceivably tense. Literally divided between Sunni and Shia, by a 12-foot concrete wall.
Clinton didn’t talk about walls Saturday, and for all the usual niceties about “standing strong” with the Iraqis, specifics about “how” were thin. Instead, reports about her visit emphasized her “listening” to Iraqis about how to assist. Six years in the country and we don’t know yet? No, it’s been made clear that Afghanistan is the new priority, and untold billions will flow from promises recently made to our fresh commitments there. When Obama visited Iraq in February, his photo-ops and key statements were made for U.S soldiers, reiterating his campaign pledge to bring them home, and stressing Iraq’s responsibility to take care of its own. Great for the American domestic audience, not so inspiring to Iraqis mired in unemployment and homelessness, driven out of their livelihoods and neighborhoods by the civil war we helped to create.
Not that the Democratic leadership will acknowledge the moral complexity of the situation. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, speaking on FOX News Sunday this morning, echoed the emerging talking points nicely and underscored to me the reality: that if any real assistance for rebuilding and healing hadn’t materialized in earnest by now, it certainly won’t happen when we are looking at Iraq through a rear-view mirror.
As the writers on this site and for TAC have argued so eloquently — and I think rightly — over the years, invading Iraq was a mistake (the majority of Americans now agree). Obama will no doubt fulfill agreements made during the Bush Administration to withdraw most of our troops from that country over the next few years. But it is a bitter turning of the page, marked not by a recognition of “victory” or grand accomplishment, but of weariness and for most Iraqis, despair. It is a bitter release of our moral obligations to the people of Baghdad and beyond. I hardly think Hillary Clinton, parachuting in with a microphone and a smile, is going to make anyone feel better, about any of it.
Above image by AFP-Getty Images