A reader recently e-mailed me about casualties sustained by his nephew's Stryker unit in Iraq after an attack by an Iranian-manufactured fragmentary device. "Why," he wrote, "are we not leveling the plants in Iran that manufacture these weapons?"
Well, that would make too much sense. It's obvious Iran is at war with us -- and not just in Iraq, where its agents and proxies kill and maim Americans by arming and organizing some of our many foes there. Throughout the region, from Hamastan (Gaza) to Hezbollah-land (Lebanon) to Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, along with Syria, is pursuing its war against us, and our interests. But we pretend, as a matter of policy, not to notice.
I don't claim to know the whole answer, but fear must surely figure into it -- fear of wider war, which I guess is natural, but also fear of a deeper truth, which is more difficult to overcome. That deeper truth starts with the realization that our strategic interests do not lie within the borders of Iraq. After all, what do we get even if the "surge" succeeds in establishing security in Baghdad and even if -- and this is the impossibly big "if" -- the Iraqis manage to establish a functional government?
The answer, under the best of circumstances, would seem to be a Shiite state that not only enshrines sharia (Islamic law) above all, but also promises to be a natural ally of Iran. Which doesn't exactly sound like an ally in the war on terror, or whatever we're calling it these days. Worse, even if we ultimately manage to have established "the new Iraq," we still won't have addressed the greater problems posed by the old Iran and Syria.
And why is it that all we can hope to get out of our costly, lengthy Middle Eastern war is just another Western-hostile Sharia State? Here comes another difficult realization: It turns out that bringing democracy to Islam just brings democracy to Islam. In other words, ballot booths don't change the illiberal aspects of Islam; they merely provide for them to be voted into office.
At the end of the election day, it's still an Islamic culture -- whether it's in Iraq, the shrinking Palestinian Authority, Afghanistan, or elsewhere. As such, it functions more or less according to guidelines laid out in a supremacist theology that fails to recognize the equality of women and non-Muslims, and, in its political manifestations, is doctrinally ill-suited to Western alliances that are anything but fleetingly expedient.
Of course, this realization is the Big No-No, the stake through the heart of multicultural teachings that give life to platitudes that everyone -- every culture, every religion, every people -- is the same, or, rather, wants the same things. (How many times have we heard the president or the secretary of State talk specifically about the normalcy of theoretical "Muslim Moms and Dads," even as actual "Muslim Moms and Dads" were celebrating mass murder committed by their suicide-bomber offspring?) For most, if not all, of our leadership, civilian and military alike, this is the blow to be warded off at all costs. As in: Live multiculturally or die.
And so, it seems, we crouch defensively over Iraq as though the secret to our national security lies within these lines on a map drawn by colonial powers in the early 1920s. We hone in on its provinces, its cities, its sects, its militias, its religious rivalries, its turf battles. We freely risk our men's lives and limbs in its dangerous neighborhoods, along bomb-mined streets, past booby-trapped houses, where we seek to destroy (or arrest) hunkered-down enemy fighters -- as though our men were worth less than their civilians.
Our soldiers learn to tell tribe from tribe and gang from gang, as though it were really our business. And in Baquba this week, where we have massed troops against 300 to 500 Al Qaeda fighters dug in among civilians (because they know we value our men less than their civilians), we are attempting to tell thug from thug. According to The New York Times, our men are equipped "to take fingerprints and other biometric data from every resident who seems to be a potential fighter."
And here lies another part of the answer for my letter-writing reader as to why Iran continues to fire away at us with impunity: In waging war through a microscope, we have lost sight of the big picture.