PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus

Iraq: Talking Down by peaceprobe
May 16, 2007, 10:24 am
Filed under: Connecting Across Borders, Iraq

Not a day passes without a political leader in Washington reminding the people of the world especially Iraqi leaders that the Iraqi government needs to do more to develop a responsible police, effective military and competent civil administration. It has become a mantra on par with the body counts demonstrating success in the Viet Nam war. Every time I hear the mantra I cringe at all those who pass along the White House talking points to whomever is still listening.

Behind the lecture is the pushy heavy hand. Implied is the notion that the American spokespersons really do know what needs to be done. Behind the talking points is the assumption that all the divisions and factions within Iraqi society can be overcome by giving orders that make those divisions go away like Saddam tried to do. Also symbolized is an inference that Iraqi society which includes more than 5000 years of a nuanced practice of negotiation, albeit sometimes long and tortured, and, like other societies not devoid of violent explosion, will temporarily forget who it is in order to march to the blame weighted commands from outside.
The impression one is to receive is that with just a little more effective effort, well placed discipline, and careful planning the killing that we now are calloused to will begin to lift and be replaced by a promised era of relative peace perhaps decorated with some traits of an unfolding democracy. But will it happen? Can it happen? Should it happen? I doubt it.

I wish the military historians who will write the story of this war would be required to pass a rigorous qualifying exam in Middle East History, Anthropology and Comparative Religion.. Come to think of it, it might not be a bad idea for those same American military and civilian commanders to have been subjected to the same rigorous qualifying exam as those commissioned to write the history. Successful completion of such an exam would require some intelligence – not the kind of intelligence that hires agents or invents the politics of other people’s nation building – rather the kind that engages with culture, ideas and wisdom.

In the present configuration of nation states even with one super power it rarely works to talk down to other nations and peoples. Listen to the speeches of super power leaders – so full of “shoulds”, “oughts”, “have tos”. Even business management has discovered the power of team work, collegiality, and authentic respect for a time frame. Talking down does not get the job done. Extreme talking down which is the use of the instruments of war doesn’t get the job done either although tiny victories might be celebrated. There are many more terrorists in Iraq today than there were five years ago.

Talking down to other people with orders that are backed with guns, bombers and Hummers does not lead to success. So why do we do it? Why do war leaders do it? Why do some peace people do it, albeit without the guns? Why do we settle for tiny victories when the universe is calling us to a new consciousness of unity and purpose that will reach far beyond our generation? I can understand the politicians because they are looking down the dark hole of the next election. But the rest of us who don’t face elections are invited to know better – that force in the form of weapons or words do not lead to long term conditions for peace. When we get it down a little better maybe we can help leaders to prepare for their qualifying exams.


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