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December 15, 2003 - 1:18 a.m.

My Saddam Soapbox

Obligatory Observations About The Capture
of Madman Saddam

So, we got him, huh? Good!

I don’t know quite what to feel about the past, present and future of Iraq, so I’m going to see what happens if I try to actually organize my heart and mind as I type. Excuse me if I meander a bit, you don’t mind, do ya? Thought not…

Past

I believed at first, really truly believed, that Saddam Hussein was somehow, in some way materially supportive of Al Qaida and therefore eventually would receive some fair share of blame for September 11th. I assumed we’d eventually uncover evidence of major financial support of terrorism in general, training of terrorists, and possible direct support of Bin Laden’s Crew itself. The arguments about Weapons of Mass Destruction were merely more fuel for the fire of our ire, and deep down I was one of those who wanted to seriously punish anyone who helped make September 11th a day of mourning.

I have my Hawkish side, but I also have my Dovish side.

I’ve always been gravely concerned about the possibility of punishing the innocent unjustly, about taking inappropriate action where cause is not properly proven, and about keeping innocents as free from harm as humanly possible, as much as modern warfare allows, anyway. We’ve made tremendous progress in waging a “humane war”, but the phrase will always be oxymoronic.

Anyway here is an example of my hawkish and dovish sides coexisting, an excerpt from an email I sent to friends and family 2 years ago that I called “Just A New Yorker.”

Thursday, September 13, 2001

In this time of grief and outrage, I would like to take a moment to remind New Yorkers, Americans and our global community about the value and diversity of people.

I would like everyone to reflect on this: there are many more qualities that make us alike than make us different.

Whether Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu, or many many other backgrounds, the specifics of our belief systems are very different but the messages to heart are ultimately messages of love and tolerance.

I am no expert on religion, and was raised Roman Catholic, but I do know that suicide and murder go expressly against Muslim beliefs. If (IF IF IF) the cowards who perpetrated this horror profess to come from a Muslim background, this is NO REFLECTION whatsoever on those who hold those beliefs to heart, any more than the religious backgrounds of John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald or Sirhan Sirhan in any way shaped their actions.

Please believe this and act accordingly; don't punish the innocent masses or individuals for the actions of sick extremists. (oh, but please DO punish those who are guilty as we have never punished before...)

Let's rise above our differences, whatever they may be, and concentrate on the many ways our world of diverse peoples are actually alike.

-Larry Steller, just a New Yorker

Even with the pain of that horrid day freshly throbbing, my main concern was that we do not over-react.

*sigh*

In the beginning I was extremely supportive of Bush’s War in Iraq, as were most I know, while worrying that the rest of the world “didn’t get it.” I especially regret IM arguments with my buddy Azamin in Malaysia about the Justness of Our Cause. Now I kind of feel like a fool.

See, I now understand that we really have been lied to and manipulated as a country. This action wasn’t really about justice, about revenge on those responsible for 9/11, about liberating oppressed peoples or even about WMD (as I believed), nor do I feel it was A War For Oil as many doves argued (if that was The Real Reason, there were cheaper ways for us to illegally get oil, up to even buying it from Saddam himself).

My current thinking is that Bush manufactured reasons for going to war simply to take care of Daddy’s unfinished business, to correct his father’s failure and turn it into a belated triumph. In short, it was personal.

That said, deposing Saddam does still seem to me like a good and meaningful end result, kind of sort of I guess. Damn, it’s so freaking complicated! See, I really don’t know how I feel, because to achieve victory so very many innocents have suffered, so many of our brave, brave fighting men have been killed or ripped apart! It’s agonizing to think of the price we are paying, our allies are paying, and the people of Iraq are paying all in the name of imposing American Brand Freedom on a truly oppressed people, whether these people even want it or not.

If the end result is good, does it then excuse the lies that took us down this road? And of course, will the end result indeed be “good?” Damned if I know.

Present

Well, we captured the boogeyman, and that is a very good thing indeed. However, Dan Rather said something that upset me greatly, to the effect (paraphrasing) that now we can turn some of those resources that were being used to hunt Saddam towards the hunt for Bin Laden.

Huh?

Shouldn’t that have been our primary focus all along? Saddam is nothing compared to Bin Laden, Bin Laden is no boogeyman, he is a very real remorseless mass murderer who has actually snuffed out thousands of innocent American lives, a killer thrilled by his staggering success. There should never have been any question of resources needed for hunting Bin Laden being anywhere but hunting Bin Laden, right Dan? Right Mr. President? Right?

Sorry to knock the capture like this, or to belittle such an important victory, I am thrilled that we finally got him. Kudos to the Military and Intelligence community on a milestone victory. However, there are a great many miles to go on the road to victory, and I fear the detour into Iraq has made the journey harder, not easier. In fact, it is unclear really what constitutes victory, isn’t it? I am still not entirely convinced that the War in Iraq in any way aids the War on Terrorism, and may even have seriously hampered it. I would love for history to prove me wrong, though.

Future

In fact, it’ll be many long years before history shows whether or not Iraq truly is better off now than before, and whether the U.S. and the world at large are better off as well. Will a stable, peaceful Iraq which treats it citizens with respect rise from the ashes, or will another despot merely take Saddam’s place?

After September 11th we had The World’s empathy, we had a chance to gather friends and allies as well as an opportunity to make new ones, and we have flushed it all down the drain with our clumsy, heavy-handed weed-whacker diplomacy (agree with us or be mowed down). More folks the world over hate America now than ever before.

I envisioned a future where the United States takes meaningful action to thwart terrorism and punish the architects of September 11 while displaying not just our might but our compassion as well.

I hoped we would teach those who hate “Ugly Americans” how wrong they are, that for every despicable act of harm we’ve done in our checkered past there are myriad examples of our kindness, our generosity, our love of peace. Our hearts, sweat and dollars are there whenever disaster strikes anywhere on the globe, the amount of good we do worldwide is beyond reckoning, and yet we are despised.

I wanted us to embrace Islam in the spirit of religious freedom and respect for the beliefs of others that is supposed to fundamentally define Americans. I hoped we would gather Muslim friends from all corners of the world in hopes that they would teach their extremist Arab counterparts that suicide bombings are a perversion of their religious beliefs and nothing short of murder. Why has this not been done?

Saddam’s capture brings a small measure of hope that perhaps Iraq will stabilize after all, and that this will in turn bring greater stability to the region, but that hope is pretty damned slim and probably in vain.

Our leadership needs to embrace Truth and show the world that we will work for the betterment of all mankind, and mean it! We must lead by example, not by forcing our values down the throats of our enemies but by embracing values like Tolerance and Acceptance that we’ve always paid lip-service too but have historically had great difficulty putting into practice.

We must especially remember that the road to justice may have been bulldozed through Iraq, but it neither began nor ends there.


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