Sharing the Green

For those concerned about the mess in Iraqi, it helps to think in colors.

Last month when I was talking to my brother on the phone, he seemed to be a little frustrated about what’s happening in Iraq. He said, “The solution for Iraq is for Americans to share the green.” What green? “I mean the Green Zone. You need to find a place for Iraqis in the Green Zone.” The Green Zone, the heavily fortified part of Baghdad where U.S. headquarters are located, is believed to be, and probably is, the most secure area in Iraq.

And my brother was absolutely right. To ordinary Iraqis, only one thing matters in these difficult times: security.

Many policy strategists agree that protecting the Iraqi people seems not to have been a priority of the American plan of action in Iraq. In an essay in the journal Foreign Affairs, Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., Executive Director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, contends that “U.S. forces in Iraq have largely concentrated their efforts on hunting down and killing insurgents.” He adds that “the current record [of this approach] is not good: even when an attack manages to inflict serious insurgent casualties, there is little or no enduring improvement in security once U.S. forces withdraw from the area.”

Krepinevich insists that the U.S. “should concentrate on providing security and opportunity to the Iraqi people, thereby denying insurgents the popular support they need.”

Yet the U.S. administration keeps showing Iraqis an incredibly infuriating indifference to what matters most to them. Instead of focusing on finding ways to save Iraqi lives, the Bush team is busy meticulously figuring out details needed to finalize Saddam’s trial, to prepare for yet another round of chaotic and premature elections, and to push for the adoption—and now implementation—of a hastily drafted constitution. These activities divert much-needed energy and focus from the more pressing task of keeping Iraqis safe.

While political achievements might be of the kind of legal tender that can enable the administration to buy the support of more Americans for the war effort, such currency is hardly worth anything right now for Iraqis. What Iraqis care about today, more than anything else, is a clear strategy that can deliver security and put an end to the harsh reality unleashed against them since the beginning of this war.

After two years, Iraq looks like a state that has experienced a sharp transition from being a country oppressed by the despotic rules of tyranny to a country torn apart by the brutal rules of insurgency and civil war. In simpler words, Iraq moved from one mess, to a bigger one, and it’s time the U.S. government engages in some serious mopping. The initial military success in the Iraq war left the American administration, particularly its leading neo-cons, with a sense of immense gratification. Not only had their unilateral campaign toppled a regime believed to have been one of the most threatening in the region, but it also supposedly opened the doors for rapid democratization in a region that was for long ruled by edge of the sword.

This period of exhilaration abruptly ceased in the wake of a tenacious insurgency led by nationalists, jihadists, and others who reject, on principle, any American interference in Iraq’s affairs. Soon the world realized that the fabricated universe of neo-conservative logic was imprudent at best. Those policy makers who pushed for the Iraq war seem to have been contemptuous of the decidedly ruinous effects of their wild military excursion in the bitter Arabian deserts.

When people are being killed daily, great and far reaching emotions diffuse without restraint. In a literally explosive situation like that in Iraq, it is just unreasonable to jump to issues that even nations living in peace struggle with, such as composing a national constitution, trying a dictator, or even engaging in democratic elections. The reason is clear: an honest, passion-free, and inordinate discourse between numerous sects and ethnic and religious groups is a crucial prerequisite for the success of such daunting national tasks. The kind of debate that exists today in Iraq is more like a meaningless argument between grieving widows.

For now, the administration’s success in cleaning up the mess it caused in Iraq is contingent upon its success in the delineation of defensible borders for Iraqi cities, towns, and villages to minimize the damage caused by insurgents and terrorists. To achieve that, America has to expand the safety of the Green Zone beyond its literal boundaries, to build up adequate defenses around Iraqi civilians, and to hold on.

Mohammed J. Herzallah ’07, a Crimson editorial editor, is a government concentrator in Adams House.