Belmont Club

The Strong Horse

Michael Totten tried to put his finger on the pulse of Iraq. Michael wanted to understand what Iraqis said when Americans were not in the room, the better to figure out what would happen when the US left and sought out an Army source, an Iraqi whose candidness was next best thing.

MJT: They say you’re a good guy to talk to because you give straight answers. It’s hard to get straight answers in Iraq.

Sayid: Yeah.

MJT: Can you explain to me why that is? I mean, I have an idea why, but I’m sure you understand it better than I do.

Sayid: It’s the formula of our community. There are many kinds of people. I will give you a straight answer, but it’s Iraqi like me.

Just 20 percent of our people are good. 80 percent are bad. You should know that.

MJT: I’ve heard that. You’re not the first Iraqi who has said this to me.

The basic message from ‘Sayid’ was that ‘it’s complicated’. Iraq was founded on a survival culture in which every strong horse was admired, every grievance exaggerated, every loyalty tentative. The support for al-Qaeda, which ‘Sayid’ called despicable, vanished with their strength, without any inner conviction that they could have done it themselves. Iraq, ‘Sayid’ seemed to say, was a culture which secretly hoped America would tell it what to do, but was too cunning to admit it.

MJT: It looks like the Iraqi government is going to throw us out, though.

Sayid: Believe me, Maliki is a dictator in Iraq. If the American government doesn’t watch him, he will become a dictator in no time. In four or five years, he will look like Saddam Hussein. Keep on him. He wants to rule. He wants to have the power. Everyone who works in his office are his relatives. He will bring all his tribe.

MJT: That’s how it is everywhere.

Sayid: No, no. In the States?

MJT: I mean, in this region. It’s like that everywhere in this region.

Sayid: In this area? Yeah. It is. Except Israel and Lebanon. They have democracy. But the rest of them? Syria? Damn. [Laughs.] Iran, too.

And in that exchange Totten touched upon a characteristic of  many damaged cultures. They hated what they despaired of becoming and secretly loved it all the same. That sentence may also explain why the Left is so attracted to the unabashed dictatorships: in them the ambiguity had been resolved. They had accepted the boot in the human face forever.

MJT: So people around here don’t like American soldiers very much, but they trust Americans more than they trust their own police?

Sayid: Yes. That’s right. The only people anyone trusts are the American forces.

MJT: So they don’t like Americans, but they trust Americans.

Sayid: Yes. I told you, it’s complicated and strange.

MJT: It is. I knew it was complicated before I walked in your door.

Nothing’s complicated about the fact that Michael does a wonderful journalistic job. Drop him a donation if you can.