There is a way through the mess in Iraq. But it will require patience and impulse control, something that — like my kids — Americans currently seem to lack. It will require talking to people who dislike each other intensely. Americans have been able to do this in the past: Nixon opened China and Reagan maintained talks with the USSR even as he squandered gobs of money on that ridiculous Star Wars weapon system.
Obviously, while Bush hasn’t spewed nonsense about the “axis of evil” lately, he cannot seem to utter words of reconciliation and peace to anybody. So he will have to ask his allies, particularly Europe, to do some of his talking for him.
And this will be difficult because the people who must be at the table include not only the factions in Iraq but also Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and . . . Israel. Analyzing the relationships, we know that Iran is largely Persian and a bit snooty about Arabia. Saudi Arabia is Sunni, has a lot of money, has used it to support civil unrest in Lebanon, and almost certainly funds a lot of the insurgency in Iraq. Everybody in the Middle East is extremely opposed to the existence of Israel. Israel knows this perfectly well and likely has a plan to obliterate any nation that makes an overt move against it. America is impotent at holding Israel to heel.
So the European Union is going to try, through the United Nations, to convince Israel to cooperate in the creation of peace. Looking back about 60 years, we can remember that Israel was created as a haven for Jews who had suffered at the hands of Europe for millennia, culminating with the murder of six million of them. Who will be president of the European Union, taking over from Finland? Germany.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha . . .
But there is a way through and it is simllar to the way that Canadians have always dealt with contentious, possibly lethal, issues. We seek 10 minute solutions. It reminds me of my kids. I ask them to do the dishes and they agree immediately, and swear they will do them in exactly 10 minutes. I have noticed, though, that they can put off doing the dishes for, well, days and even weeks. Conceivably, forever. All in 10 minute increments.
And so I wonder if we cannot get these contentious folks to the table, promise that they can resume their butchery almost immediately. But just put it off for, say, 10 minutes. Postpone hostilities for a day or two while we play videogames and eat pizza. It is a powerful and very effective tactic, even when used against monstrous forces (like mothers).
More seriously, I think that it is important for all of us to realize that democracy cannot be installed like a new porch or cable TV. Democracy requires that the majority of citizens put their own best interests aside long enough to consider the welfare of their fellow citizens. However, in countries where people are beheaded before football games, victims of rape are executed for shaming their families, women are burned for having a less than optimal dowry, war lords can order the assassination of entire families on the basis of any perceived offence, the majority of officials are corrupt, and so on . . . the average person cannot afford to consider what is fair or equitable. Life is so entirely perilous that people must survive by cunning and perseverance, by aligning strategically with the power that can offer the most protection, the most food for your family, and that is least likely to betray you. You are concerned entirely with interpreting gossip and making strategic plans — not rule of law.
In other words, before there is democracy, there must be peace. Before there is peace, there must be security. Before there can be security, there must be a common commitment from everybody to keep the trigger finger still. Long lasting peace is too much to ask for, given history and current power relations. But negotiators might be able to prevent war in small increments.