Shall I explain to these besieged, patient, impoverished millions that this war is the last one? Shall I confide that it’s hopeless; better get out? (To where?) Shall I urge them to enlist their sons with the moderate rebels who the coalition will support? Or, say “Forget about reforms; even if the current leader is ousted, Arabs are just not ready for democracy”?
Shall I argue: “The Sykes-Picot division of their homelands created your national boundaries; so don’t be so attached to them”? Shall I go there to help care for the wounded and the orphans? Or plead that I didn’t vote for this president, just as liberal Americans assured their Iraqi friends a decade ago that they hadn’t supported the administration that invaded Iraq in 2003?
Shall I placate those already settled in the West with “Aren’t you happy you left”?
There’s no way for people here in USA to imagine what Syrians and Iraqis are thinking; and thereby offer advice, or relief.
And then there’s the war machine. It needs feeding. And there are European and American leaders needing to show they’re capable of thwarting a threat. The enemy too. It needs to be shown how this ‘civilized world’ can and will crush it.
So another war is announced. That is to say: ‘smart bombing’ is underway and a coalition is in line to liberate these millions. War plotters caution us that it’s not going to be a fast fix, unlike that bombing campaign across Libya which nobody here will talk about today. Not like drone operations in Yemen and Pakistan which turned their people against the USA and its once respected ‘no-war’ president.
How can any Iraqi who remembers how America’s military assault on Fallujah turned so many into antagonists expect anything but more instability, more strife, more division? How can inhabitants of northern Iraq welcome the alliance of outside forces with the ambitious Peshmarga if they later find themselves absorbed under unfriendly Kurdish rule?
In Syria, citizens sighed with relief when just months back the chemical weapons destruction program was successfully concluded. Damascus too surely expected to earn some reprieve with that. Perhaps many Syrians, whatever their ethnicity, began to shelter behind government forces as a lesser evil after witnessing the excesses of al-Nusra and other wild rebel groups. And if they looked to Egypt and Libya as models of liberation, Syrians may have wisely concluded: “Maybe after some years, we can try again”.
I suppose everyone is making preparations for the new war. Somehow, they will have to suffer another era of deprivation and uncertainty.
Barbara Nimri Aziz is a veteran anthropologist and journalist. Her latest book is Swimming up the Tigris: Real Life Encounters in Iraq (2007).