Jul 312007
Authors: Ryan Nowell

On Sunday, in a victory celebrated across the embattled nation of Iraq, the country’s soccer team beat the heavily favored Saudis to capture their very first Asian Cup title. Some are already calling it one of the greatest sports stories of all time, despite many people having not been previously aware that the Asian Cup exists and is a thing. Our bad.

But uplifting stories of triumph in the face of adversity are the lollipop portion of the overall Iraqi news tetanus shot, falling well short of compensating, all things considered.

We don’t even need to look at a different story in this instance: During the post-game festivities several bystanders were maimed by falling bullets that soccer enthusiasts had fired into the air. It took investigators hours to determine it was celebratory gunfire that had caused the incidents, rather than insurgent gunfire, sectarian gunfire, religious holiday gunfire, rush hour gunfire, laundry day gunfire, new gun gunfire, or stress-relieving me-time gunfire.

This tendency of bad good news has been prevalent throughout the war. Progress has happened in Iraq, but only the Jenga kind. We end Sunni dominance and cause a civil war; we hold elections for a government that doesn’t work; we build schools and police stations with dangerously cheap labor and materials; on and on and on.

Whenever pressed for some tangible results, the White House suddenly turns into Virginia Woolf, espousing the situation’s complex emotional subtleties and vague, unknowable personal progressions. There is slow, deep change occurring. The Iraqis will come around, they just need time and ennui. Possibly flowers. Only a philistine would demand to see results as obvious as safe streets and electricity.

Maybe I just have vulgar taste, then. A key oversight in the reconstruction of Iraq comes from policy-makers misunderstanding how our own country works. You see, we tolerate our incompetent democracy because we enjoy a ridiculously high standard of living. However egregious the latest scandal or injustice is, if we can still end the work week by falling backwards into a kiddie pool of Haugen Daus, we probably won’t mount much of a protest other than throwing an empty beer can at a rerun of Meet the Press.

I mean, if someone really gets pushed too far, they’ll throw on the Che Guevara t-shirt they bought at the mall for twenty bucks, march to the nearest person holding a clipboard, and “get involved”, meaning entire weekends will be devoted to sign-making, chanting outside of office buildings, and holding the clipboard.

So where did Iraq falter? Think back to when they were electing their own incompetent democracy. Remember that? The purple finger thing? That Time magazine cover? How we spent a week or so feeling really great about ourselves for graciously bestowing this prodigal nation with glorious, purple-fingered freedom?

Well, when the already less-than-enchanted Iraqis recognized the bureaucratic slog their country was about to lurch through, opinion started to give way to opposition. The vast majority of them still being without plumbing, running water, or electricity, many Iraqis have lived the proof that their shiny new democratically elected government can’t or won’t make good on the promise of a better life. And with no kiddie pool of Haugen Daus to cushion the blow, people are given to do rash things.

I don’t know what the best course of action is. We can leave, and while it’s arguable how much good we’re doing over there, I don’t know how leaving can be anything but bad for the average Iraqi. It’s highly doubtful whether the “mission” will ever be accomplished, but it seems resoundingly cruel to waltz away from a problem we caused. On the other hand, I’m not over there, and that also seems resoundingly cruel to say we should stay when I’m not the one getting shot at. I don’t know. All I know is whatever we decide to do, we should probably learn to be happy with the trickle of ineffectual good news.

Ryan Nowell is a junior English major. His column appears weekly in the summer Collegian edition. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com

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