Iraqi conflict has humane side, too


When my daughter told me it would be OK if I didn’t make it to Springboro a week ago Friday, I pulled the side lever on the easy chair and kicked back.

It’s not that I didn’t want to see our grandson. But the 50-minute drive there and promise of another 50-minute return trip after dark at the end of a long week dampened my enthusiasm.

Grandpa was tired.

So my daughter headed to the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery in downtown Dayton with 19-month-old Atticus in tow.

They were going to the museum’s monthly “Evening of Astronomy” program for a class she’s taking at Sinclair Community College. She figured the visuals would keep Atticus sufficiently occupied that he wouldn’t be too disruptive.

That proved to be about 65 percent right.

The preliminaries went well in a program she found interesting enough to want to return to with me in tow some time. But as the presenter began making her way through the planets, things went sideways.

Charging down the aisle in toddler strides that are a comic battle between speed and balance that might earn a failing grade in a field sobriety test, Atticus pointed toward the ceiling as an image of Mercury gave way to Mars, Earth and Venus and each time shouted out what he knew them to be: “Ball!” “Ball!” “Ball!”

Atticus’ charge came the same week ISIS charged into Iraq. And the reports I watched on the news seemed at times to indicate that we, as a people, see foreign policy with the same level of sophistication that my grandson sees the planets.

In the context of what we’ve called a war on terror, when something goes wrong in the Middle East we look at our big screen TVs and hear “Terrorist, terrorist, terrorist!”

ISIS was the newest curveball thrown to Americans. It confuses us because the ISIS folks are Sunnis, not Shia, like the Iranians who took American hostages nearly 35 years ago.

That led some to suggest that the United States might work with Shia Iran to resist the new Sunni radical surge. Though rejected out of hand by some, others thought it more practical than pursuing strategic bombing in a country where lines are changing daily, civilians mixed with combatants and intelligence virtually non-existent.

Whatever the stated views of the various factions, it seems reasonable, at least in the long run, to support the more moderate of either the Shia, whom we might call Hatfields, or the Sunnis, whom we might call McCoys. Because even through the murk of slogans bandied about, one rather simple rule of thumb seems to distinguish the bad guys from the worst: After using suicide bombers to grab power, the worst ones will cut off your thumb, or your hand, arm or head, to advance their points of view.

The shifting sands of power in Iraq did provide us with that familiar sense of conflict between our democratic ideals and the practicalities of a world in which power is important. At issue was whether the minority Kurds should have their way and establish their own country if Iraq disintegrates.

The American tradition of political freedom might wish to support the oppressed minority’s attempt to grab autonomy, but that wish has to be balanced against the potential consequences. If Iraq breaks apart, the Hatfields and McCoys might not be fighting just in Iraq but from the Mediterranean to the Caucuses.

Whatever one thinks of all the players in an area where there are likely to be rumblings and shifting for a generation, it seems a good idea to think about how to sort them all out.

A good place to start may be with the technique my grandson used as he trundled down the aisle at the Boonshoft.

If we consider each group involved in the conflict either as a separate planet or ball, located in a different part of a system of planets or balls, it’s possible to imagine how each might see the situation differently because of that ball or planet’s location. It might also be possible to imagine how that ball, given its relative strength, might seek to exert gravitational force to change the alignment of balls or planets around them, perhaps by creating new alignments of balls or planets.

The critical step for we Americans at this juncture may be to realize that we are one of those planets, and though a large one, we do not occupy the center of the solar system.

We rightly mourn the soldiers and billions of dollars lost in the conflict in Iraq. It is, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, altogether fitting and proper that we should do so.

But to get a clear picture of what to do so we might limit our future mourning, it’s also necessary to realize that Iraqis of different stripes, and the Sunni and Shia of different stripes, who died in far larger numbers, likely mourn their dead as deeply.

We might also keep in mind that if we, half a world away, feel fearful because of unfolding events, there is reason to think those who find themselves in harm’s way by virtue of living there might be more fearful.

As stakeholders, they may have more at stake.

Finally, I think we need to stretch our imaginations a bit and consider that the possibility that in an era in which American politicians accuse Washington of being out of touch with the nation, people halfway across the world with no say over what we do might at times entertain the same thought.

I’m not saying this changed point of view would make it a whole new ballgame. But it might get us all thinking more clearly about what the game is and just how many players are involved.

We owe that to grown American grandchildren already lost in the conflict, others who may be in the years to come — and the grandchildren of people living on what, from where we sit, seem like faraway planets.


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