A US soldier who took part in the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq returns to Baghdad to find it scarred but in some way recovering from the damage of that time period. Not the soldier but the piece raises the question: what was it all for?
But things have changed. This isn't the Baghdad I once knew. Just off Abu Nuwas Street near the Tigris River, where sniper fire was once a daily hazard, the sounds of war have been replaced by the sounds of children playing soccer on the grass. They whoop, high-pitched and full throated, like birds calling to each other. On Haifa Street, where bitter sectarian fighting raged from 2006 to 2008, young men pause in the doorway of a local market to finish a conversation as Iraqi pop music blares from a boombox. Near the university several young women laugh as they cradle textbooks and notebooks, their head scarves a splash of color against the drab building facades. Everywhere around Baghdad there is the sound of a city regaining its voice.
If in 2003 the United States wanted to spread democracy in the Middle East, Iraq is not where it would have started. It would have started in Saudi Arabia. A US president would have said to the Saudi dictator: we will not continue security cooperation, we will not train or equip military forces to defend your regime unless you hold elections for an elected legislative body in six months and transfer all political power to elected bodies over the next five years.
If George Bush had done that in 2003, then today a Republic of Arabia, maybe still named Saudi Arabia after its figurehead king, would be democratic without one shot being fired, without one senseless death. With no sectarian wars breaking out, cities separated by huge concrete barriers with foreign troops constantly patrolling in helicopters above.
Bush did not do that because the accountable Republic of Arabia likely would join Iran in supporting Palestinians who reject Israel and likely would not silently tolerate Israel having a regional monopoly of both nuclear weapons and nuclear capability. Parties that reflect the region's doubts of Israel's legitimacy would, in Bush's words, have gotten control of oil wells and could have used them to fund their ambitions.
Instead, Bush tried to turn Iraq into a colonial dictatorship led by Ahmed Chalabi and run like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan, Kuwait and others.
Bush failed, and a US soldier has returned to Baghdad to reflect on the aftermath, noting that the city is not as bad as it had been in the past.
If a US president today wanted to spread democracy in the Middle East, Libya and Syria are not where he would start. Like 2003, he would start in Saudi Arabia. He would say to the dictatorship that the 35,000 troops the US plans to arm and train to defend the regime are contingent on immediate elections and a five year pathway to full dissolution of power to representative bodies. Again there would be a new democracy in 2016 with no cities being sieged, no aerial attacks on anyone's home or families.
But for the sake of 5.7 million Jewish people in Palestine whom he insists must have a viable state with a reserved political majority, Obama like Bush is spreading destruction throughout the region.
The soldiers Bush committed to his attempt to transform Iraq into a colony like Saudi Arabia were in danger themselves and had no reason that they would understand their mission or the region it was executed in any more deeply than necessarily to return home alive, preferably with military honors. If one is to be angry, it shouldn't mostly be at them - even though they were the ones pulling the triggers.
This soldier was performing a mission that was bigger than he was and now has come back to, as well has he can, survey and understand the aftermath.