Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Pandora's Box

If you are ever fortunate enough to live in a community that sponsors a visit by Iraqis who actually live and work in Iraq, don’t miss the opportunity to hear them describe what life is like for them.

Not all of them live in the battle zones that are currently in the news. But all of them live in a place – one hesitates to call it a country except that it does have internationally recognized borders – where electricity is on for as little as one hour a day, clean water may be available only from communal spigots, the health care system has either collapsed or is overrun by war casualties, and where violence can come with little or no warning from passing military convoys, Iraqi military or police raids, rampaging sectarian militias, or silently from the air.

And there is always the fact of occupation, of insensitivity to the culture – secular and religious – and ignorance or disregard of cultural mores. Listening to Iraqis describe their encounters (or those of their friends) with coalition soldiers, it seems as if every good gesture by a foreign soldier is counteracted by an offensive one. And psychologically that is how the sequence is remembered – not a “bad” offset by a positive exchange but a “good” negated by a faux pas or worse.

Visit with enough of these ordinary Iraqis still living, working, and trying to raise families in Iraq and three themes emerge. The first is they appreciate Saddam’s removal from power. The second is bewilderment that the world’s strongest economy and strongest military cannot restore and sustain basic community services or subdue violent foreign extremists.

And the third? Well, in early March, Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, noted that when regime change happened, the U.S. “opened the Pandora’s box and the question is, what is the way forward?” The box, into which Zeus crammed all the ills of humanity that then flooded over the world when Pandora opened the lid, hid one redemptive virtue: Hope.

It is the answer to Ambassador Khalilzad’s question.

It is the lifeline of every Iraqi.

It is the promise that some future day really will be better.

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