Wednesday, July 26, 2006

On The Matrix in the Middle East

Okay, so right now, there are somewhere around 127,000 American troops stationed in Iraq. For those of you in search of a metaphor, that's about the population of Bern, Switzerland. Today, the Iraqi Prime Minister pushed for more money and more troops, comparing the attacks of September 11 with the violence in his own country. He also said that "the battle of Iraq will decide the fate of this war," although he didn't specify which particular war he was talking about, and I suspect he was speaking metaphorically.

And that's one of the problems that we continue to deal with as the Iraq war cruises through its third year; we really don't know what the war is anymore. As I mentioned in a previous post, I don't think it's the War on Terror, not really. It's not the war against Saddam Hussein; he's in jail, on trial, and looking hungry. It's not the war on WMD, certainly, or else North Korea would have gotten the Baghdad treatment a week ago. So what war is it that we're so desperate to fight?

It's Not Our War.

I know that sounds kind of crazy, considering that I just wrote a week ago about how every conflict affects us, and how important it is that we keep an eye on, and maybe a hand in, world affairs. I wrote that honor killings in Turkey, clitoridectomies in Afghanistan, and suicide bombings in Iraq make us less safe here, not by putting us at risk for attacks but by creating a world culture of violence and vengeance that makes everyone unsafe. I wrote about how necessary a true global consciousness is for hopes of future peace - or at least detente - in the Middle East. And I still feel that way.

But it's not out war. Not in Iraq. Right now, throwing more money and more troops at the problems in Iraq seems like a simplistic answer to a complex problem, because we're not facing the same enemy we were facing at the beginning of the war. We're not deposing a dictator and fighting his army; we're facing factions that are fighting each other out of deep-seated, longstanding hatred, and don't care how many innocent people - Iraqi or American - get caught in the crossfire. Many of them resent the our presence (many of them are grateful for and resent our presence, both at the same time), but the sight of an American military uniform is often just an irritant to a Sunni militant with a Shiite in the crosshairs.

Iraq has gotten to the stage where it has to be able to fight its own battles. Not because we're tired of being there, tired of American deaths one day and more insurgent attacks the next, but because the next step is the one where Iraq can fight its own battles. A continued American presence can only delay the inevitable; either the people of Iraq - innocents and militants - learn to accept democratic self-rule, or they don't. American troops can capture insurgents, kidnappers, bombers and gunmen after the fact, but the job of actually preventing such atrocities can only be performed by Iraqis themselves.

They need Keanu Reeves.

Ah, yes, my geek flag flies high as I work my first-ever Matrix reference into a political post. But it fits, really, if you think about it, so toss back a drink and suspend disbelief for just a moment.

Right now, people in Iraq want peace. Not all the people, obviously; a great many of the people want the complete elimination of everyone not like them. But a great many people want to be able to go to the grocery store in the morning without fear of suicide bombers, would greatly appreciate electricity for more than four hours a day, think that being able to go to school or worship or dinner would be an excellent thing.

Unfortunately, all of those people are prime candidates to stop wanting peace with a quickness. In an environment like that, a twelve-year-old boy turns into a vengeance-fuled insurgent with the push of a button, if that button is attached to a suicide belt that takes out his entire family. Before, the boy may have been completely innocent of any kind of ill will or violent wishes, but after, he's the next threat to the safety of the people around him.

He's just wandering around in the Matrix, minding his own business, not threatening anyone, when suddenly, bzzt, his face stretches sideways and he's Agent Smith.

There's no real reliable way to predict the next Agent Smith. Sometimes you can judge by proximity, location, access to weapons and to others with violent agendas. But sometimes, it's the woman in the square who just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. An army can't stop an Agent Smith from popping up; the only way to do that would be to kill everyone, which would defeat the purpose of our presence. The only way to bring lasting peace is to, if you'll pardon my geekness, free Zion.

We need Neo.

Neo isn't one of the troops. He's just some Iraqi guy who can see things a little bit differently, and who can put aside the conventional wisdom on the current situation and reject the notion that things like peace between religious sects is impossible. It's a lofty dream, I know, and probably unrealistic, and probably naive. But it's what has to happen, because if we keep doing what we're doing, we're gonna keep getting what we're getting. Neo doesn't have to be superhuman; he just has to be willing to reject the false assumptions, stereotypes, and inaccurate views of Middle Eastern politics that have gotten us into this situation, and find another way of doing things. And more importantly, he has to be able to convince those around him to reject their own notions of inevitable sectarian violence, so that they can take their country back from those determined to convert-or-kill.

What is America's role in all of this? We know we have one. We know we have a vested interest in a healthy, functioning democracy in the Middle East. But we're not the ones who'll do it; we're the ones who have to find the one who can. We're Morpheus.

Laurence Fishburne. Hells yeah.

America is marching around in its black leather jackets and little-bitty sunglasses, and the only productive thing it can do right now is to find that one person who, with some coaxing, can put aside those preconceptions and rally his fellow Iraqis to make peace in their own country. America will fight alongside, certainly, and do everything it can to support the Iraqis' efforts. But America isn't driving this anymore. This one is going to be won by the Iraqis.

And they're going to win it when they can be convinced to fight it for themselves.

And thus is the geek flag lowered, doused in Canned Heat, and set respectfully aflame, never to be raised again. Seriously.

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