State of the Union

Congress Must Vote Before Iraq War III

gary718 / shutterstock

Last week, we were told there were 40,000 Yazidis on Sinjar Mountain facing starvation if they remained there, and slaughter by ISIS if they came down. But a team of Marines and Special Forces that helicoptered in has reported back that, with a corridor off the mountain opened up by U.S. air strikes, the humanitarian crisis is over. The few thousand who remain can be airdropped food and water. The rest can be brought out. The emergency over, President Obama should think long and hard about launching a new air war in Iraq or Syria. For Iraq War III holds the promise of becoming another Middle East debacle, and perhaps the worst yet.

America would be entering this war utterly divided. We are not even agreed on who the enemies are. Hillary Clinton thinks we should be tougher on Iran and that Obama blundered by not aiding the Syrian rebels when they first rose up to overthrow President Bashar Assad. Veteran diplomats Ryan Crocker, William Luers, and Thomas Pickering argue that Assad is not the real enemy. The Islamic State is, and we should consider a ceasefire between the Free Syrian Army and Assad.

“It makes no sense for the West to support a war against Assad as well as a war against the Islamic State,” they write, “Assad is evil but … he is certainly the lesser evil.” Crocker-Luers-Pickering also argue that the crisis calls for the United States to accept the nuclear deal with Iran that was on the table in July and work with Tehran against ISIS. Iranians and Americans are already rushing weapons to the Kurds, who have sustained a string of defeats at the hands of the Islamic State. ”A new strategic relationship between the United States and Iran may seem impossible and risky,” the diplomats write, “yet it is also necessary and in the interests of both. While an alliance is out of the question, mutually informed parallel action is necessary.”

If we could work with the monster Stalin to defeat Hitler, is colluding with the Ayatollah beyond the pale?

Other arguments shout out against a new American war. How could we win such a war without the U.S. ground troops Obama pledged never to send, and the American people do not want sent? Air power may keep ISIS from overrunning Irbil and Baghdad, but carrier-based air cannot reconquer the vast territory the Islamic State has occupied in Iraq. Nor can it defeat ISIS in Syria.

If Obama did launch an air war on ISIS in Syria, our de facto ally and the principal beneficiary of those strikes would be the same Syrian regime that Obama and John Kerry wanted to bomb a year ago, until the American people told them no and Congress refused to vote them the authority. For such reasons, the demand of Sens. Tim Kaine and Rand Paul—that before Obama takes us back to war in Iraq, or into a new war in Syria, Congress must debate and authorize this war—is a constitutional and political imperative.

The questions Congress needs to answer are obvious and numerous. Read More…

Posted in , , . 6 comments

What Kind of Conservatives Are the Warhawks?

Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga

U.S. air strikes since Friday have opened a corridor through which tens of thousands of Yazidis, trapped and starving on a mountain in Iraq, have escaped to safety in Kurdistan.

The Kurds, whose peshmerga fighters were sent reeling by the Islamic State last week, bolstered now by the arrival of U.S. air power, recaptured two towns. But the peshmerga have apparently lost the strategically important town of Jalawla, 20 miles from Iran, the furthest east that ISIS forces have penetrated.

Last week’s gains by the Islamic State caused Republican hawks to flock to the Sunday talk shows. ”ISIS is a direct threat to the United States of America,” said Rep. Peter King, John McCain called for bombing ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But using air power to prevent ISIS from seizing the Kurdish capital of Irbil and Baghdad is not enough, said Sen. Lindsey Graham. “We need to go on offense,” he told FOX News, “There is no force within the Mideast that can neutralize or contain or destroy ISIS without at least American air power.”

The Islamic State is “an existential threat” to our homeland, Graham added, asking, “do we really want to let America be attacked?” Came then this warning from Sen. Graham: ”If he [Obama] does not go on the offensive against ISIS, ISIL, whatever you want to call these guys, they’re coming here. This is not just about Baghdad, not just about Syria. It is about our homeland.”

“I think of an American city in flames because of the terrorists’ ability to operate in Syria and Iraq,” said Graham, “Mr. President … what is your strategy to stop these people from attacking the homeland?” This semi-hysterical talk of an “existential threat” to the “homeland,” and the dread specter of “an American city in flames” is vintage war party, designed to panic us into launching a new war.

But before allowing these “Cassandras” to stampede us back into the civil-sectarian Middle East wars that resulted from our previous interventions, let us inspect more closely what they are saying. If ISIS’ gains are truly an “existential threat” to the republic and our cities are about to “go up in flames,” why did these Republican hawks not demand that President Obama call back Congress from its five-week vacation to vote to authorize a new war on ISIS in Syria and Iraq?

After all, King, McCain, and Graham belong to a party that is suing the president for usurping Congressional powers. Yet, they are also demanding that Obama start bombing nations he has no authority to bomb, as ISIS has not attacked us. King, McCain and Graham want Obama to play imperial president and launch a preemptive war that their own Congress has not authorized. What kind of constitutionalists, what kind of conservatives are these? Read More…

Posted in , , . 20 comments

Iraqi-American Christians Pray, and Protest, for Peace

As the Islamic State forces northern Iraq’s religious minorities—Christians, Shia Muslims, and Yazidis—to flee, convert, or die, the United States has begun dropping humanitarian aid as well as bombs in an effort to stave off genocide, despite many Americans’ trepidation at getting involved in Iraq again. But many Iraqi-Americans, especially members of the Chaldean Catholic community, have long been protesting and praying for some kind of action.

Chaldean Catholics have a long history in the United States, but their numbers have been growing in past decades as they have fled from aggressors in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and the Islamic State alike. The American Spectator’s Lucy Schouten recalled their exodus:

Most [U.S. refugees] joined the Chaldean Christian community in Michigan, which began in the 1870s. They had helped build the automobile industry, saving factory wages to bring family members to the land of opportunity. The Detroit community of Chaldeans now numbers 200,000 and has associations for every profession from pharmaceutics to CPAs.

The Iraqi Christians were an enterprising group and established smaller communities in San Diego, Chicago, Arizona, and Las Vegas, while maintaining ties to faith, family, and their home country community.

That community continued to grow and flourish even after the war ended, although, as Schouten put it, “most Americans would not now call Detroit a land of opportunity.”

Now, the community has come together to support family and friends across the ocean. The federal building in downtown Detroit has seen several rallies over the past two weeks. An August 1 procession saw a thousand Iraqi-Americans pray for peace while carrying a large cross around Mother of God Chaldean Church in Southfield. The Detroit Chaldean community has raised tens of thousands of dollars for humanitarian aid in Iraq through parish collections and a new online diocesan initiative, HelpIraq.org.

Detroit Chaldeans have partnered with their smaller, but just as active, brethren in California to raise awareness. San Diego’s “Little Baghdad” neighborhood in El Cajón is home to the second largest Iraqi-American community, including vibrant activists from protest rappers to visiting Iraq-based nuns. Many members of the community have family and friends suffering back in Iraq, and local doctor John Kasawa has noted an uptick in anxiety and depression in the neighborhood as the violence takes a toll “on the collective conscious.”

Little Baghdad’s most visible leader is local entrepreneur and Ending Genocide in Iraq spokesman Mark Arabo, who had been working with Congress and the administration on anti-genocide action and humanitarian aid for months before news of the airstrikes came last week. He now plans to go to the United Nations, where he hopes to convince leaders to give asylum to the nearly half-million newly displaced Iraqi Christians. Meanwhile, some are already preparing for new arrivals in San Diego.

Arabo has described the decision the U.S. faces in Iraq as “an honorable predicament.” In considering the extent of military intervention, the U.S. is “specially positioned to be viewed as a failure for foreign inaction, and ‘imperialist’ for our willingness to act,” he said. “I tend to view our foreign role as a nation of great power, blessed with a moral obligation to enact change on a global scale. This, I must stress, is a blessing.”

Not all members of the Chaldean community agree. “We do not want to see American [sic] involved in a third war in Iraq, Gulf War 3.0. We don’t want that,” Bishop Bawai Soro of the San Diego Chaldean diocese told local news. “At the same time, we want ISIS to be stopped.”

Posted in , . Tagged , , . 4 comments

Congress Can Stop Obama’s Ramp Up to War

Barack Obama has asked Congress for $500 million to train and arm rebels of the Free Syrian Army who seek to overthrow the government. Before Congress takes up his proposal, both houses should demand that Obama explain exactly where he gets the constitutional authority to plunge us into what the president himself calls “somebody else’s civil war.”

Syria has not attacked us. Syria does not threaten us. Why are we joining a jihad to overthrow the Syrian government?

President Bashar Assad is fighting against the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front and the even more extreme and vicious Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In training and arming the FSA, we are enlisting in a cause where our foremost fighting allies are Islamists, like those who brought down the twin towers, and a Sunni terrorist army that seeks to bring down the government we left behind in Baghdad.

What are we doing?

Assad is no angel. But before this uprising, which has taken 150,000 lives and created millions of refugees, Congressmen and secretaries of state regularly visited him in Damascus. ”There’s a different leader in Syria now,” cooed Hillary in 2011, “Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.”

If we bring down Assad, what assurance to do have that the Free Syrian Army will prevail against the Islamists who have proved far more effective in the field? Will we not be compelled to plunge into the subsequent civil war to keep ISIS and al-Qaeda from taking power?

If Assad falls there is also a high probability Syria’s Christians will face beheadings and butchery at the hands of the fanatics. And should martyrdoms and massacres begin with the fall of Assad because of our intervention, the blood of Christians will be on the hands of Barack Hussein Obama and the Congress of the United States.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin says he wants no part of Obama’s new wars. Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine rightly asserts that President Obama has no authority to take us into war in Syria or Iraq. But where are the Republicans?

Absent an attack on U.S. citizens or vital interests, or an imminent threat of attack, Obama has no authority to initiate war. The Constitution places the power to authorize wars of choice exclusively with Congress. James Madison and his colleagues were seeking to ensure against a rogue presidency of the kind that Obama has lately begun to conduct.

It is astonishing that Republicans who threaten to impeach Obama for usurping authority at home remain silent as he prepares to usurp their war powers—to march us into Syria and back into Iraq. Last August, Americans rose as one to tell Congress to deny Obama any authority to attack Syria. Are Republicans now prepared to sit mute as Obama takes us into two new Middle East wars, on his own authority?

A Congressional debate on war is essential not only from a legal and constitutional standpoint but also a strategic one. For there is a question as to whether we are even on the right side in Syria. Assad, no matter his sins, is the defender of the Christian and Shia minorities in Syria. He has been the most successful Arab ruler in waging war against the terrorist brigades of ISIS and al-Qaeda.

Why, then, are we training Syrians to attack his army and arming people to topple his government? Have we not before us, in Libya, an example of what happens when we bring down an autocrat like Gadhafi, and even worse devils are unleashed? Read More…

Posted in , , . Tagged , , . 8 comments

Make Obama Go to Congress for More War in Iraq

Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy
Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

With the Islamic warriors of ISIS having captured all the border posts between Iraq, Syria, and Jordan, we may be witnessing the end of Sykes-Picot. That was the secret 1916 treaty by which the British and French carved up the Ottoman Empire, with the Brits taking Transjordan and Iraq, and the French Syria and Lebanon. Sykes-Picot stuck in the craw of Osama bin Laden. Now his most fanatical followers have given him a posthumous triumph.

President Obama said over the weekend that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which seeks to create a caliphate out of the Sunni lands of Syria and Iraq it occupies, poses a threat to the United States. Obama has thus committed 300 special forces to assist Iraq’s defeated and demoralized army, and there is talk of U.S. air and missile strikes and drone attacks on ISIS, in Syria as well as in Iraq.

That would constitute a new war. Yet the president, who taught constitutional law, says he does not need Congressional authorization. He is dead wrong. Not only has he no authority to take America into civil wars in Iraq and Syria, he would be insane to do so without the support of his countrymen, as expressed in a vote by Congress.

Obama is about to make a decision fateful for himself and for his country. Does he not realize that he is on the edge of an abyss, about to stumble into a tribal and religious war across the Middle East? The Iraq we left behind three years ago no longer exists. It has been divided up into a Kurdistan, the Sunni region of the north and west, and a Shia-dominated Baghdad and south.

To put the Iraq of Sykes-Picot back together would require thousands of troops to recapture and hold Iraq’s border towns and to reimpose Baghdad’s rule over Anbar and the Sunni Triangle. As the Iraqi army has been routed from this region, recapturing these Sunni lands could require U.S. troops in numbers to rival the surge that enabled Gen. David Petraeus to defeat al-Qaida in Iraq.

Yet the situation in the Sunni region is more hostile today.

The Sunni do not want U.S. troops fighting to force them back under Baghdad’s rule. Some have welcomed ISIS as allies in the fight to be free of a hated Shia-dominated army and regime. Some Sunni Arab states are expressing bewilderment that the United States seems about to start a war on the Sunni regions. Are we really going to send planes to bomb and kill our former allies, with their wives and children as collateral damage?

Among the Shia volunteers on whose side we would be fighting are the Mahdi Army we fought in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Many have blood debts to collect from U.S. soldiers. Ayatollah Khamenei says that while he might welcome the use of U.S. air power against ISIS, he does not want U.S. troops to return to Baghdad or the Shia south. Is the U.S. Air Force going to become the Condor Legion of the Ayatollah Khamenei?

Assume that we intervened massively, led the Iraq army back into the Sunni north and west, and helped it to recapture Mosul and the border posts. How many U.S. troops would we have to leave behind in Iraq to prevent a future Shia regime from losing its Sunni provinces a third time? The Iraqi army that we trained at a cost of $25 billion and left behind in 2011 folded like a house of cards. How many times must we do this? And if we defeat ISIS, would not these jihadists simply retreat into the Syrian territories they now occupy, as their privileged sanctuary, to come back and fight another day? Read More…

Posted in , , . Tagged , . 19 comments

Bombs Can’t Save Iraq

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller

The panic that engulfed this capital after the fall of Mosul, when it appeared that the Islamist fanatics of ISIS would overrun Baghdad, has passed. And the second thoughts have begun. “U.S. Sees Risk in Iraqi Airstrikes,” ran the June 19 headline in the Washington Post, “Military Warns of Dangerous Complications.” This is welcome news. For if it is an unwritten rule of republics not to commit to war unless the nation is united, America has never been less prepared for a Mideast war.

Our commander in chief is a reluctant warrior who wants his legacy to be ending our two longest wars. And just as Obama does not want to go back into Iraq, neither does the U.S. military. The American people want no new war, and Congress does not want to be forced to vote on such a war. Our foreign policy elites are split half a dozen ways—on whether to bomb or not to bomb, on who our real enemies are in Syria and Iraq, on whose support we should and should not accept, on what our strategic goals are, and what are the prospects for success.

Consider the bombing option.

Undoubtedly, U.S. air power could blunt an attack on Baghdad. But air power cannot retake Mosul or the Sunni Triangle that Baghdad has lost, or Kirkuk or Kurdistan. That will take boots on the ground and casualties. And nobody thinks these should be American boots or American casualties. And why should we fight to hold Iraq together? Is that a vital interest to which we should commit American lives in perpetuity? When did it become so?

No. Bombing cannot put Iraq together again, but it may tear Iraq further apart. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has succeeded in northern Iraq because it has allied with the same militias, Baathists, and tribal leaders who worked with Gen. David Petraeus in the Anbar Awakening. And if we use air power in Sunni provinces that have seceded from Baghdad, we will be killing people who were our partners and are not our enemies. Photos of dead Sunnis, from U.S. air, drone, and missile strikes, could inflame the Sunni world.

Upon one thing Americans do agree: ISIS and al-Qaeda are our enemies. But is bombing ISIS and killing Sunnis the way to destroy ISIS? Or does bombing martyrize and heroize ISIS for the Sunni young? And if destroying ISIS is a strategic imperative, why have we not demanded that the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia cease funneling arms and aid to ISIS in Syria? Why have we not told the Turks to stop permitting jihadists to cross their border into Syria? Why are we aiding and arming the Free Syrian Army to bring down Bashar Assad, when Assad’s army is the only fighting force standing between ISIS and the conquest of Syria? Read More…

Posted in , , , . Tagged , , . 12 comments

ISIS May Expel Iraq’s Christians for Good

Mar Mattai monastery outside Mosul, continually inhabited by monks since the 4th century A.D. Chris De Bruyn / cc
Mar Mattai monastery outside Mosul, continually inhabited by monks since the 4th century A.D. Chris De Bruyn / cc

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS, has recently overtaken the major Iraqi city of Mosul, causing an exodus of more than 500,000 that took some of Iraq’s last remaining Christians with it. The city itself, mentioned in the Bible as Nineveh, has harbored Christianity since the very dawn of its tradition and was one of the last havens for Iraqi Christian communities.

Despite these deep roots, past U.S. policy has ignored the vulnerable position of Christians in the Middle East. Andrew Doran wrote a strikingly prescient piece for TAC almost exactly one year ago, saying:

[D]emocracy in the Middle East is proving less tolerant than the regimes it has succeeded. Unless swift action is taken, these democracies will evolve into bastions of intolerance and violence beyond our comprehension. These democracies will not march ineluctably toward liberty and pluralism, as some naïve optimists continue to forecast despite the evidence, but will end in the ordered barbarism of Saudi Arabia, where punishments include beheading and crucifixion[.]

As it so happens, ISIS is the jihadist organization renounced by al-Qaeda for its brutality. Maliki’s abusive government, propped up by $20 billion in American aid, allowed Mosul to be claimed with alarming ease. One CNN article reports that “[p]olice and soldiers ran form their posts rather than put up a fight, abandoning their weapons as they went. The militants took their place in the city’s boulevards and buildings.” Marc Lynch of the Washington Post argues that the Iraqi military isn’t resisting is because Maliki has lost its loyalty:

The most important answers lie inside Iraqi politics. Maliki lost Sunni Iraq through his sectarian and authoritarian policies. His repeated refusal over long years to strike an urgently needed political accord with the Sunni minority, his construction of corrupt, ineffective and sectarian state institutions, and his heavy-handed military repression in those areas are the key factors in the long-developing disintegration of Iraq.

If ISIS succeeds, the regnant regime will be the “ordered barbarism” Doran foretold. In the hierarchy of a new caliphate, there will be no room for diversity or religious tolerance; there will no longer be any room for Christianity. According to a World magazine report, most of the Christians, so long a presence in Mosul, have already been driven out:

“Ninety-nine percent of the Christians have left Mosul,” pastor Haitham Jazrawi said today following the takeover of Iraq’s second largest city—and its ancient Christian homeland—by al-Qaeda-linked jihadist militants.

Catholic Archbishop Amil Shamaaoun Nona is reported to have said that the decline has been occurring since the U.S.-led campaign began. “In 2003 there were still 35,000 faithful living in Mosul,” Nona said. “Three thousand were still there in early 2014. Now probably not one is left here, and that is tragic[.]” According to Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute notes that, once the Christians are gone, they may not be coming back:

When the army does eventually succeed in reversing jihadi control in Mosul, it may be too late for the Christians. Once Middle Eastern Christians flee to the West, they don’t return.


Posted in , , , , , . Tagged , . 20 comments

Somewhere, Bin Laden Is Smiling

Bowe Bergdahl was “an American prisoner of war captured on the battlefield” who “served the United States with distinction and honor,” asserted Susan Rice, the president’s national security adviser.

Rice was speaking to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos the morning after Barack Obama’s Rose Garden celebration of Bergdahl’s release. When she spoke last Sunday, could Rice have been ignorant of the widespread reports that Bergdahl had deserted?

Before last Sunday, her credibility was already in tatters.

Five days after Ambassador Chris Stevens and three Americans were killed in Benghazi, Rice went on five Sunday shows to describe the terrorist attack as a spontaneous riot ignited by an anti-Muslim video.

Not only has her credibility now suffered a second near-lethal blow, her competence as a presidential adviser is open to question. How could she let the president strut into the Rose Garden to celebrate the release of a soldier whose reported desertion triggered a province-wide search that may have cost the lives of half a dozen American soldiers?

As The Hill reported, a Pentagon investigation in 2010 concluded Bergdahl had walked out on his unit and left a note in his tent saying he was disillusioned with the Army and no longer supported the war. Was Rice ignorant of this? Did she think it not relevant, when she approved the president’s hosting of Bergdahl’s parents in the Rose Garden? Is Rice not responsible for the humiliation President Obama has endured all week and the fiasco that diverted national and international attention from his trip to Warsaw, Brussels and Normandy?

Forty-eight hours after Obama celebrated Bergdahl’s release, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs was promising an investigation of the soldier on the charge of desertion and related allegations he may have defected and collaborated. If Gen. Martin Dempsey was aware an investigation into charges so serious that they carry the death penalty was ahead for Bergdahl, did he not flag the White House before the president went before the nation to celebrate Bergdahl’s return? Read More…

Posted in , , , , , . Tagged , , , . 46 comments

Chuck Hagel’s Thought Crime

Of all of defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel’s “inquisitors” at yesterday’s Senate confirmation hearing, John B. Judis observes that Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the New Hampshire Republican, was “tough and fair” and well-mannered. I suppose this is superficially true. And yet I was utterly gobsmacked by the exchange.

Here’s a YouTube clip:

The infraction in question here is that Hagel, in a 2007 speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “The core tenets of George Kennan’s ‘The Long Telegram’ and the strategy of containment remain relevant today. This is how we should have handled Saddam Hussein.” (I bolded the clause that Ayotte quoted, and presumably found damning.)

The speech in full (go ahead, read it!) should offend no one. It was a routine formulation of classical realist principles:

In the Middle East of the 21st Century, Iran will be a key center of gravity…and remain a significant regional power. The United States cannot change that reality. America’s strategic thinking and policies for the Middle East must acknowledge the role of Iran today and well into the future.

To acknowledge that reality in no way confuses Iran’s dangerous, destabilizing and threatening behavior in the region. Our differences with Iran are real. Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and continues to provide material support to Hezbollah and Hamas. The President of Iran publicly threatens Israel’s existence and is attempting to develop the capacity to produce nuclear weapons. Iran has not helped stabilize the current chaos in Iraq and is responsible for weapons and explosives being used against U.S. military forces in Iraq.

Yet, America’s military might alone cannot successfully address these challenges or achieve any level of sustainable stability with Iran. The United States must employ a comprehensive strategy that uses all of its tools of influence within its foreign policy arsenal—political, diplomatic, economic, cultural, and military.

This is the way moderate Republicans and liberal internationalists talked about foreign policy challenges throughout the 1990s. It is the kind of rhetoric that President Clinton employed and, for the most part, the kind of rhetoric President Obama employs today. Now, it’s true, as was pointed out to Hagel ad infinitum yesterday, that the Obama administration does not profess a policy of containment toward Iran; it has vowed to prevent the regime from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

But Obama was not president in 2007. And Hagel, then still a senator, was free to ruminate on the “inventory,” as he put it yesterday, of options available to American diplomats and national security strategists.

“Was it that containment was one of the options?” Ayotte probed.

Hagel: “Yes, of course.”

This is damning?

Really?

Yes: Of course a strategy of containment is an option. So is an air attack or a land invasion tomorrow. Yet Ayotte strongly implied that the mere entertaining of the idea of containment was disqualifying. Containment ipso facto means appeasement, and to have said it’s worthy of consideration is a kind of thought crime. Consider: a member of the U.S. Senate, “the world’s most deliberative body,” thinks that it’s impermissible to actually deliberate foreign policy.

Add Ayotte’s exchange to Sen. John McCain’s confrontation with Hagel, in which McCain treated the arguable success of the Iraq surge as a priest would the historicity of the virgin birth, and we have the unmistakable voice of a school of foreign policy that operates more like an office of doctrinal enforcement.

These are dangerous people.


Posted in , , , , , , , . Tagged , , , . 9 comments

“Zoo Is Hell”

Just saw Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Rajiv Joseph’s new play, at the Round House Theater in Bethesda, MD. It’s not a perfect play–there’s some unnecessarily on-the-nose dialogue, and it’s content to keep its two American characters democracy-whiskey-sexy caricatures, which can get grating. But overall this is a terrific play.

The tiger is played by a man, Eric Hissom in this case, who has a keen appetite, a sort of drunken-uncle garrulousness, and an unexpected existentialist spirit. He’s shot early on in the play and wanders the streets of Baghdad encountering other ghosts, including a Mephistophelean Uday Hussein.

I complained that a lot of plays etc about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show basically no interest in imagining actual Iraqis and Afghans. This play, by contrast, is actually about Iraqis, believe it or not–Iraq, here, has a drama and inner life which didn’t start with the American invasion.

The play is funny–there’s a quick, grim little knock-knock joke at the beginning, and knock-knock jokes are a recurring theme–and startlingly violent, even for a war story. It ends up as a play about theodicy, basically. There are recurring images like hands and listening, unexpectedly-intertwining plotlines, and a few moments of haunting poetry, as when the tiger hears the muezzins calling people to prayer and their voices roll in to a ruined garden “like fog.”

The Iraqi characters, including the tiger, mirror the Americans in ways ranging from the tiger’s musing that he’s “10,000 miles from where I’m supposed to be” to an interpreter’s self-lacerating cry, “I am so tired of making the same mistake over and over again!” But the Iraqis don’t exist simply to provide commentary on the Americans. They have their own questions and histories.

There’s a shatteringly perfect ending line (“This is what he said”) which unfortunately is not quite the actual ending. There’s just a lot of intelligence, imagination, and gallows humor on display in this particular zoo.

Posted in , , , , . Tagged , , . One comment
← Older posts