It's morning in Iraq, or, depending on your time zone, afternoon. Then again, it could be late at night, and you're wondering where the day went. But back to our metaphor: A new day is dawning in the Middle East. Totalitarianism is over in Iraq, and the people will soon be experiencing the miracle of democracy and market-based capitalism, which, studies show, is mainly high cholesterol and credit card debt.
Mercifully, the tyrannical personality cult has been vanquished and one man's maniacal hold on the populace is over. We don't know where he is, or whether he's alive or dead. We only know that Geraldo Rivera won't be bothering anybody again.
But most important, the United States has gained a powerful new foothold in the Middle East, something neighboring countries have long been clamoring for, with the exception of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Yemen, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey, and Qumar (no, wait, that's a fictitious country on TV's West Wing). Now that the United States has claimed victory, grateful citizens of the region have only one question for the Bush administration: "How come where we live is called the Middle East and where you live is called the West? Maybe YOU guys are in the East, and we're in the West. I mean, the earth is round, right? Heck, if you start with Guam, the Arab states are, like, in Hollywood or something."
Good points all. (Yeah, right, like John Wayne movies would ever be called "Easterns." Hah!) But to understand Iraq, and why it was necessary for our government to make up stuff and pretend there was a real reason to invade, we have to look back a little further than last week's episode of Survivor. (I know it's hard, America, but try to focus.) Some historical reflection is necessary.
IRAQ IS CONSIDERED by most Iraqis to be the Cradle of Civilization (not unlike how my hometown insists it is the Watermelon Capital of the World). Over the centuries Iraq underwent many changes, mainly the kind where people with the word "horde" on their vanity plates stopped on their way to the beach just long enough to set fire to everything that moved. (Fifth century hint: When a horde is coming, don't move.)
Finally, things settled down with the emergence of the Ottoman Empire, a powerful civilization of sophisticated and educated people who were known by their neighbors as "those uppity Ottomans." Impressed by the rich intellectual life of the region, Britain naturally felt something should be done about it, so they applied their time-tested diplomatic tool: the crushing heel of imperialism. (Note: British troops also burned everything that moved, but they weren't "hordes" because they wore nice uniforms.)
Already weakened by the precipitous crash of the ottoman market—19th century consumers had inexplicably switched to Stratoloungers, which have that built-in thingie for your feet—the Ottoman Empire was unable to repel the invaders and was quickly carved up into various smaller countries whose borders were determined by Britain's meticulous cartographical technique. (British mapmaker: "I know, I'll make it the same shape as me mum's Sunday hat!")
Enter America, and the promise Iraqis now have for freedom, democracy, and, in the not-too-distant future, maybe even tap water. (We're working on it.)
One Iraqi we talked to was ecstatic about the change of regime, and said he was particularly looking forward to getting a good health care system, with America's help:
IRAQI: Actually we had a health care system. A little short of medicine, maybe, but at least the health care was free.
US: Free health care? Dude, what planet are you from?! But don't worry, we'll set up an HMO right away.
IRAQI: That would be good. Then I can finally watch The Sopranos.
US: No, I said "HMO," which we have found is the best way to maintain the health of American corporate executives.
IRAQI: We don't have any executives.
US: Just be patient. In the meantime we're giving you the next best thing: jittery soldiers untrained in crowd control. And that's not all. We have another American innovation to help rebuild your society.
IRAQI: What's that?
US: Bobble-head dolls. They're So cool!
Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.