The Truth, Mainly - 07/30/2007

Time to mind our own business?
by Leon Satterfield

First, a memory from my spotted past:

It's 1961 and my wife and I and our two-year-old first child are still in our first year in Lincoln. We think it's an idyllic place. We're sitting out on our front porch watching nice people walking and driving and bicycling by.

And that's when I hear a commotion coming through the screen door two houses down the street from us. A woman is yelling something. She sounds like she's in some distress. I'm not all that long out of Boy Scouts, so I go to the house to see if I can help.

I ring the doorbell and a middle-aged woman comes to the door, red-faced and sweating. "Yeah?" she says.

I heard you crying out in great distress," I say. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Yeah," she says just before the slams the door shut. "Mind your own damned business."

"Oh," I say, and I go back home.

"What was that all about?" my wife asks.

"I don't know," I say. "It was none of my damned business."

"Oh," she says. "I wondered if it might not be."

I thought of that little misadventure earlier this month when I read an Associated Press story datelined "Baghdad, Iraq" and quoting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki saying that Iraqi forces are quite capable of taking care of his country and that U.S. troops can leave Iraq "any time they want….We say in full confidence that we are able, God willing, to take responsibility completely in running the security…if the international forces withdraw at any time they want."

Then an A.P. story by Ben Feller last Wednesday began with this ominous lead: "President Bush, trying to justify the Iraq war, cited intelligence reports Tuesday he said showed a link between al- Qaeda's operation in Iraq and the terrorist group that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001."

Here's what Feller reported the president said: "The merger between al-Qaeda and its Iraqi affiliate is an alliance of killers, and that is why the finest military in the world is on their trail."

On the surface, the president's implied rationale for our war in Iraq—that it's the home base of those SOBs that killed several thousand Americans in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—makes sense. On the surface.

But his argument confuses cause and effect.

To imply that our war in Iraq is simply a counter-attack on the 9/11 villains ignores some important facts. Here are two:

•The director and sponsor of the 9/11 attacks was Osama bin Laden. He is not an Iraqi. He and the late Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, couldn't stand each other. Given the opportunity, either one of them would have gladly arranged the death of the other.

•Bin Laden is still at large, but not in Iraq. Our president doesn't seem much interested in tracking him down.

And, according to Feller's A.P. story, "Al-Qaeda had no active cells in Iraq when the U.S. invaded in March, 2003, and its operation there is much larger now than before the war, U.S. intelligence officers say. The war itself has turned into a valuable recruiting tool for al-Qaeda, senior intelligence officials concede."

So one might justifiably decide that al-Qaeda's presence in Iraq is the effect of our invasion, not the cause. We're not in Iraq because al-Qaeda's there. Al-Qaeda's in Iraq because we're there. We came before they did.

That makes more sense than the Bush argument that we're still in Iraq because of 9/11—which had nothing to do with Iraq.

The kindest thing we can say about that argument is that the president is badly confused. A less kindly interpretation comes from Sen. John Kerry—yes, he's the Democrat who lost the 2004 election to President Bush. He says that the president "is trying to scare the American people into believing that al-Qaeda is the rationale for continuing the war in Iraq….The president is picking the wrong rationale for this war. Al-Qaeda is not the principle killer of American forces in Iraq."

One of Prime Minister al-Maliki's aides, Hassan al-Suneid, was quoted as saying that the U.S. was treating Iraq "as if it is an experiment in an American laboratory judging whether we succeed or fail," and that the U.S. military was "committing human rights violations."

That from one of our allies in Iraq.

Makes me wonder what the Prime Minister meant when he said that U.S. troops can leave Iraq "any time they want." Makes me wonder if he was telling us that it's time for the Bush Administration to understand that, despite its oil, Iraq is none of our damned business.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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