Saturday, March 04, 2006

1st Lt. Garrison on the state of democracy in Iraq

Note: 1st Lieutenant Micah J. Garrison has been serving in Iraq for ten months. He and his unit hope to be home by the end of May.

I've had quite a few people ask my feelings about the state of the Iraqi government, are things really close to a civil war following the mosque bombing from a couple of weeks ago, questions like that. I've decided to try to put things into perspective a little, but of course, these are some of my own opinions and ideas on the state of politics in Iraq.

Things really don't seem that different on our end, on patrol working with the Iraqi people, following the mosque bombing and continued violence. Violence has been a part of the Iraqi way of life for many years, and unfortunately there doesn't seem to be an end in sight any time soon. There will always be bad Iraqis, just like there will always be bad Americans. Unfortunately the bad people here use elevated forms of violence in the forms of suicide bombers, car bombers, drive by shootings, and other types of violence that we aren't accustomed to as Americans. Many of the insurgents we’ve captured weren’t shooting at us or putting in IEDs because they don’t like Americans, but because it’s the easiest way for them to make money, as they get paid large sums of money to carry out attacks. A lot of non-Iraqi insurgents have also been captured who are here for no other reason other than to promote and cause violence because they don’t want to see democracy succeed.

The level of violence and death these people have had to endure is difficult to comprehend. Every Iraqi has had someone they cared about killed due to violent conflict during the last 25 years. Look at the numbers. During the Iran/Iraq War of 1980-1988, an estimated 450,000 - 950,000 Iraqi military deaths. This number doesn't include the countless civilian deaths. During the Gulf War of 1990-1991 an estimated 25,000 - 100,000 military casualties were suffered. And we don't even have clear numbers for the latest invasion. These people have been in a constant state of war and turmoil for most of the last 25 years. It has sadly become part of their culture.

Many of the older Iraqis we have encountered don't really seem to grasp the opportunity they now have as free Iraqis. I remember talking to one tribal chief and he kept saying, “What can I do” or “I can do nothing” when I kept asking for information on insurgents and why he wasn't leading his people to support and embrace democracy. Here I was trying to explain to a guy 2 or 3 times older than me what he should be doing as a leader and what freedom truly meant and how his people looked to him for guidance because people want to be led. I was extremely frustrated about this encounter until I reflected later that he didn't know what freedom was. He hadn't grown up in a free society, nor did he understand that democracy is what the people make it.

On the other hand, most of the younger Iraqis (late teens to 30s) seem to truly grasp the idea of democracy and understand some of what lies before them. They seem more willing to work with us and take the initiative to make their country better. I think this is due not only to the "exuberance of youth" but also to the fact that they haven't been oppressed for as long as the older Iraqis have been and haven't seen or experienced as much violent government action. If they can keep things together long enough for the younger generations to grow up in a free society I think they have a good chance of making it work. When we go on patrol the kids love to see us and wave and smile but in some cases the adults don't really care for us. Why? Because the adults have seen and experienced the war first hand for most of their lives and don't really know what to expect from democracy.

Of course, there people back home that say things like: what about the corruption in the Iraqi government, Army, or police, or, why is it taking them so long to form a government, or, if Saddam was so bad then why do some Iraqis wish he was still in power. I think many questions like this would be easily answered if people would try to be empathetic with the experiences of the Iraqi people and also look at things from a historical perspective. First, there is corruption in some shape or form in just about every type of government in the world. Unfortunately things here are just under a microscope. As the saying goes, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Iraqi government is just going through the same growing pains every other newly formed government has gone through. After the fall of communism in the former USSR corruption was rampant, but over the years a more stable government has slowly evolved.

I also think that most people don't seem to understand that you can't just snap your fingers, form a new government, and have everything work like you want. Take the timeline for the formation of our own government for example. The Declaration of Independence was signed July 4, 1776. The Articles of Confederation were proposed on November 15, 1777, but weren't ratified until March 1, 1781. The Treaty of Paris officially ended the Revolutionary War on January 14, 1784, but the final draft of the Constitution wasn't sent to Congress until September 17, 1787, wasn't ratified until June 21, 1788, and didn't take effect until March 4, 1789. It took 13 years for the fledgling American colonies to draft a document uniting them under one federal government. I admit that the American situation and the Iraqi situation are quite different, but I hope my example makes sense. For a nation to try and develop and implement a form of government it has never experienced before while at the same time trying to govern and fight an insurgency is an extremely difficult and trying process. To be honest with you I'm somewhat surprised they've done as good a job as they have.

I'll use one more example to respond to some of those people who want to know why some Iraqis wish Saddam was still power. I think that is easily explained by human nature. Humans tend to want to do whatever is comfortable or to leave things as the status quo. That is why it is so difficult to change the status quo, especially when it comes to government. People may not always like the results of what they currently have, but there isn't that scary "unknown" or "what if" factor if they were to pursue political change. Humans are also inherently lazy when it comes to self-rule and are more willing to accept inconveniences if it means they don't have to face unknown fears or put their own hard work into changing things. I think history also proves this point. Any time a group of people undergoes significant change as a society there will always be those who wish things could go back to the way they were. Why? Because they knew what to expect. When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt some wanted to go back. During the Revolutionary War there were many colonists who remained loyal to the British Crown and sided with the British. Following the reunification of Germany I remember reading articles about how some Germans (both East and West) wished they were still separated. Following the fall of Communism in the former USSR there were many people who longed for the return of Communism because of the rampant corruption in the newly formed Russian Government.

I'm also somewhat frustrated because it seems that many news agencies, politicians, and other foreign governments either expect or hope the democracy project in Iraq will fail and I'm not really sure why. Having grown up in America and having been blessed with the freedoms we have, I wish people of other nations could have the freedoms and quality of life that we enjoy.

I hope these examples answer the questions that some of you have asked. Again, what I've discussed here is strictly my own opinions. I wish I had more time to cite more examples and give better explanations of what I see happening here, but spare time is limited for me. I also realize that some of my arguments are somewhat elementary in scope, but it’s the best I could to with the time I have.

We should only have about 8 weeks left here, but we still don't know an exact date. I look forward to seeing all of you when I return home. Thanks again for your continued support. Micah.

1LT Micah J. Garrison
HHC TF 2-130 Infantry
Recon Platoon
APO AE 09381


Anonymous said...

joan, i wonder what a 14 yr old iraqi boy might say about civil war or a 78 yr old iraqi woman or 6 yr old iraqi girl etc....soldiers aren't necessarily the best ones to understand the complex situation in iraq. most american soldiers come from minorities and poverty. they are taught to buy into the rhetoric while their minds are still young. asking a soldier whether or not civil war looms is liking asking a kidnapper how his captive feels.

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