Monday, February 12, 2007

Bush's War Unleashing Sectarian Divisions

Today is Lincoln's birthday. Abraham Lincoln is one of at least two Republicans most modern Democrats admire. I say modern because many of yesterday's Democrats eventually joined today's Republican Party. We all know this, though Republicans like to make pretentious comments about the past while finding new groups to turn against. Bill Kristol made a nonsensical comment over the weekend that Barack Obama would have supported slavery or some such nonsense during the Civil War. I'll leave to others to sort out Kristol's delusions. Anyway, how many times has Bill Kristol been right in the last five years? How many times has the Republican leadership in Congress been right in the last five years?

Iraq is in a civil war. Many Americans have a long memory of our own Civil War, particularly those who live in the South. I was born and raised in California and I grew up not knowing my family had a small Civil War connection. My great-grandmother, who married the Scotsman and settled in the San Joaquin, came from a family, a clan actually, that had lived in Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas in succeeding generations. My great-grandmother was born just months after the Civil War ended and a year after her parents had arrived in California, but most of her extended family had left Arkansas for California just before the Civil War. Her parents and an uncle and his wife had remained behind in Arkansas to take care of the young children that belonged to other family members until those members had become established in California. They were not involved in the fighting but they were in Arkansas during the war years. The great-great grandfather was a pastor and led his congregation as war and disease came to Arkansas. The war passed by the great-great grandparents and the children they were caring for, but not disease. Disease came and sickness. In a single horrendous night, five of the children died. But six managed to survive. The following spring, before the war was over, the remainder of the family finally arrived in California.

We need to think about what we're doing in the Middle East. Chaos is being unleashed and our president refuses to open talks with the neighboring countries around Iraq. No one can pretend that the current president understands what he's doing. For Bush, everything is about 'winning,' public relations or being the 'decider.' He clearly is not a Lincoln.

Here's an article by Anthony Shadid of The Washington Post that talks about some of the growing anxiety, chaos and confusion in the broader Middle East:
The growing Sunni-Shiite divide is roiling an Arab world as unsettled as at any time in a generation. Fought in speeches, newspaper columns, rumors swirling through cafes and the Internet, and occasional bursts of strife, the conflict is predominantly shaped by politics: a disintegrating Iraq, an ascendant Iran, a sense of Arab powerlessness and a persistent suspicion of American intentions. But the division has begun to seep into the region's social fabric, too. The sectarian fault line has long existed and sometimes ruptured, but never, perhaps, has it been revealed in such a stark, disruptive fashion.

Newspapers are replete with assertions, some little more than incendiary rumors, of Shiite aggressiveness. The Jordanian newspaper Ad-Dustour, aligned with the government, wrote of a conspiracy last month to spread Shiism from India to Egypt. On the conspirators' agenda, it said: assassinating "prominent Sunni figures." The same day, an Algerian newspaper reported that parents were calling on the government to stop Shiite proselytizing in schools. An Egyptian columnist accused Iran of trying to convert Sunnis to Shiism in an attempt to revive the Persian Safavid dynasty, which came to power in the 16th century.


"To us Egyptians," said writer and analyst Mohammed al-Sayid Said, the sectarian division is "entirely artificial. It resonates with nothing in our culture, nothing in our daily life. It's not part of our social experience, cultural experience or religious experience." But he added: "I think this can devastate the region."

The violence remains confined to Iraq and, on a far smaller scale, Lebanon, but to some, the four-year-long entropy of Iraq offers a metaphor for the forces emerging across the region: People there watched the rise of sectarian identity, railed against it, blamed the United States and others for inflaming it, then were often helpless to stop the descent into bloodshed.

My great-grandmother, the one who married the Scotsman and settled in the San Joaquin, was lucky. She was an immigrant, albeit within the borders of the United States, and was able to start life over free of a painful past. Starting over is an important part of our history even if we have never left home. It is a state of mind, an opportunity, a belief in the second and third chance and more. It accounts for the some of the optimism in our history, the belief that if given time we might be able to get things right.

But not all people can move on. We are trapping millions in Iraq in a war not of their choosing though the sectarian divisions are real. Bush has no idea what he is doing. His advisers reached far beyond anything they had known before. We have had people make life and death decisions who have never been to war and who refused to defer to those who have been to war.

We need some wisdom and we need it soon. I don't know if a Lincoln will show up in the next few years but we need change in Washington now. Time is running short.

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