Washington’s high-decibel debate over funding U.S. military operations in Iraq has utterly drowned out one of the most important voices we must consider in any substantial discussion of goals and consequences: the voice of the Iraqi people.
Enter Marc Danziger. Danziger works for a software company in California and — using the wry pseudonym "Armed Liberal" — writes for the Website WindsOfChange.net.
Late last week, Danziger sent an email that began:
"As most of you know, I’m a liberal Democrat (pro-gay marriage, pro-choice, pro-progressive taxation, pro-equal rights, pro-environmental regulation, pro-public schools) who supported and supports the war in Iraq. As I tell my liberal friends, "Did I miss the part where it was progressive not to fight medieval religious fascists?"
"I’ve been waiting for four years," Danziger added, "for the White House to start explaining the war to the American people and to do anything sensible at all to maintain the political capital necessary to keep America in the fight — to keep us from withdrawing because the war is too messy, or too long, or just plain makes us feel bad."
Danziger decided to post to the Web video interviews from Iraq. He was involved in a charity that sent humanitarian aid to Iraq and, as a result, came in contact with many Iraqis. "I’ve asked them," he wrote, "to simply film a message they would send in responses to Americans who want to withdraw right now."
I immediately went to the Internet and watched the first video, featuring a young, smiling Iraqi man. Replying to the question, "What will precipitous withdrawal produce in Iraq?" the fellow says, in Arabic, "I believe there will be chaos and more death, and all security will be lost."
Modern information technology empowers individuals, often with spectacular effects. Political activists are wise to those effects, so skepticism is in order. Witness the "Hillary Clinton as Big Sister" video placed on YouTube by a Barack Obama campaign worker.
Obama received an advertising windfall when that attack video migrated to TV networks. No question, Danziger is running a personal, low-budget, donation-driven opinion campaign. He intends to form his own political action committee. The man wants the world to hear the voices of Iraqis he knows exist.
I promised him a small donation so he can shoot more videos. Why? The interviews are credible — I’ve heard similar Iraqi opinions. Agreed, Danziger’s videos are selective, but he’ll counter that these are Iraqis interviewing Iraqis whom CNN and Fox don’t know. I’ll support that experiment.
Besides, empowering technology isn’t the only miracle here. Danziger’s effort would not be possible without another profound miracle: the reality of an emerging Iraqi democracy — a political system that allows the individual voice to be heard.
A second video went up this week. In that video, a questioner asks, "What would you like to say to those who want American troops to leave Iraq tomorrow?"
The woman replies: "I can only imagine the tragic consequences that would follow … and the blood … and the price we’d have to pay. … A disaster."
A city side-street, bright with sunlight, provides the background. A shadow, however, hides the speaker’s face, for she fears reprisal. Yet her voice is clear and her words certain.
It’s also certain that if Saddam Hussein were still in power, or the misogynists in al-Qaida ever gained power, we would never hear her voice at all.
The shadow of war continues to haunt Iraq, as does the shadow of Saddam Hussein’s destructive tyranny. Other shadows of the past darken Iraq’s present: the Treaty of Versailles’ unfair treatment of Arabs, Islam’s fossilization, Islam’s Shia-Sunni fault line and Arab tribalism.
Yet in the midst of it, the incremental miracle of democratic change is also occurring.
The terror aimed at them by sectarian and political fascists has not cowed the Iraqi people. They know the long-term stakes and rewards.
When I was serving in Iraq, several Iraqis told me they knew democracy was "our big chance." One man said Iraq had the opportunity to "escape bad history." I hear those same voices in Danziger’s interviews. The Iraqi people have suffered the hells of the past and are confronting the bombs of the present because they have hope for the future.
Abandoning them would be a damnable, destructive and utterly foolish act.