Questions and Perspectives on Iraq

Will somebody please explain to me why it’s in anyone’s best interests for the west to continue to attempt to impose unity and western political institutions upon “Iraqis,” instead of helping self-identified “Kurds,” ”Sunnis,” and “Shiites” achieve self-determination, and their own highest ideals and priorities, each in their own unique and uniquely valuable ways?


I’m not a foreign policy specialist. I’m only a U.S. citizen loyally attempting to keep up with politics and uphold the highest traditional U.S. ideals by reading two newspapers and occasionally following CSpan. But try as I may, in all my reading and listening, I have not been able to conclude that Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis want to be united under one government. All evidence points to the contrary: each of the three groups apparently very much wants to control its own historically-separate destiny, now and into the future, each maintaining a fierce (and admirable) loyalty to their own unique set of traditions, culture, religious beliefs, values, and leadership.


How can we ever end this war and achieve long-lasting peace, in that region or here at home, without recognizing the very reason why each of these three ethnicities has so long been fighting against us and amongst one another—for the right (to which Americans give lip-service) to democratic political self-determination for all peoples everywhere?


After decades of cruel war and occupation by western countries, Iraqis seem to have reasonably concluded that they must fight back against western politicians who would encroach upon their families, friends, and the lands of their ancestors, and who would impose foreign values, institutions and approaches upon them through forced coalitions and nationhood.


I have read some of the regional instability arguments against partitioning Iraq into three nations, but am so far unconvinced that all interested nations and peoples—including “Iraqis”—wouldn’t be far better off if we in the U.S. just changed our foreign policy to support democratic self-determination and separate nationhood for each of the three historical ethnicities that we once, so unwisely, forced together under one dictator. I also remain mystified as to why (other than ignorance) the U.S. didn’t choose this more peaceful and lasting alternative approach to our current destructive, unjust, costly, protracted and unwinnable war, years ago. (But that’s another question….)


As long as we ignore the self-deterministic aspirations of these three ethnicities, the U.S. must settle, in Iraq as we have elsewhere, for minimal, shameful goals of imposed “civil quiet,” via yet one more cynically-installed, tyrannical, ruthless, repressive KGB-type police state backed by an endless, costly, inflammatory, deadly U.S. occupation.


How did we ever conclude that violent suppression of a popular movement for personal liberty would more likely result in peace and freedom than generous support for local freedom of choice?


We cannot win this war until Middle Easterners feel that they too have won a freedom they can believe in. And we can’t achieve a win-win outcome by imposing an outdated political and military solution grounded in untested assumptions, a solution which many in the west persist in believing is “in our best interests.”


There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.


We can choose to minimize the impacts of future civic unrest during inevitable land grabs and power struggles in the Middle East, by withholding military and financial support from all regional leaders who have historically used militaristic, terrorizing, violent approaches to achieving peace, and offer instead generous financial, diplomatic and media support only to those leaders who are popularly respected as most peaceful and most representative of the highest ideals and traditions of each ethnic group.


President Bush’s proposed “Strategy for Victory in Iraq” has identified four goals to be achieved in Iraq before troop withdrawal: peace, unity, stability, and security. But before the war, most (albeit dispirited) “Iraqis” already “enjoyed” exactly those four conditions under Saddam–the only exception being dissidents fighting for political self-determination.


What then have we been fighting for? What has our costly war accomplished? And for what and for whom are we still fighting?


Terrorism breeds and grows in regions where angry young people seeth under unjust, externally-imposed militaristic tyrannies.


So will someone please explain to me why it’s in anyone’s best interests—ours, or any others’–to keep on imposing our own beloved but fallible western institutions and values upon the people of the Middle East—right on up to the time when we drain the very last drop of lifeblood from our grandchildren and our economy–instead of peacefully and generously granting (Christian!) charity to the best and brightest leaders of every region, assisting them in lighting their own peoples’ way to achieving their own unique and uniquely valuable (if equally fallible) highest ideals and priorities–each in their own way?






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Acceptance 14 – I'm Lonely and I'm Sick and Tired of It. How Can Acceptance Help Me?

(This is the latest segment of a 15-part series of questions and answers about “acceptance” which I began posting early in 2005. I think the series is best read from the beginning, so click on the topic “acceptance” if you would like to see the whole series. All the posts to the series were written quite a while ago, but I never got around to posting them. So I'm doing it now, in case readers want to read the complete series, as originally written….Thanks! Eppy)

I'm lonely and I'm sick and tired of it. How can acceptance help me?

Try, for the moment, to accept your loneliness of right now. Don't resist it, accept it; it's not a permanent condition, but it is “what is,” right now. For the moment you've forgotten who you can be, the loving, accepting, giving and lovable person you have been at times, and will be again. Try to see yourself again as that lovable person, the person you really are, without all your added-on “stuff” about who-you-were-in-the-past, about what you've lost in life, about all the pain you've been through. Try, for the present moment, to let go of all your fears about what the future might hold. Accept “what is” about the present moment: your present loneliness.

Consider the people who are around you. Try to accept them too, just as they are, right now, without all the stuff you know about them, how they were in the past, what they did, what they could have been, what they might do and become in the future. Try to accept them, right now, just as they are.

They are, and you are, right at this moment, “what is” in your life.

Decide now to treat yourself and everyone (every one) in your life, just exactly as you would like to be treated by everyone in the world. Kindly. Acceptingly. Non-judgmentally. Gently. Generously. Forgivingly. Respectfully. Courteously. Attentively….

Now do it. And don't forget yourself. Be willing to see everyone, including yourself, in a brand new, fresh-start, way. Be willing to see, and treat everyone, including yourself, like royalty. Like the second coming. Like the best thing that ever happened to the world…. Just be willing….

I find the world, life, living, so confusing. I've tried hard to figure it all out, to understand life and people, but I still feel sometimes like I'm wandering in the dark. How can acceptance help me?

Life is not a puzzle or a problem you can solve. It's an adventure you live, one exciting, scary, involving, challenging, interesting, terrifying or frustrating moment at a time. You can't get ready for life–it just keeps on comin' on, right at you…. You will never get it right. You will never “finally” get any of your relationships right, nor will you ever get yourself “right.” Nature will be cruel, and humanity will seem capable of every extreme of both helpfulness and harmfulness. You will always have heartaches.

Accept what is right now. You can't accept the future until you're there. And you can't accept the past, because it's already gone. It doesn't exist anymore. Your job is to accept the present moment, and let the past and future go. (They're not really real anyway, only the present is real.)

When you do, you'll be in a lot better, calmer, less-resistant place to begin to bring about the changes you want to see in yourself, your own life, and in the world.

What can you change by choosing to see yourself, others, and everything in the present moment differently, acceptingly? What can you accomplish? You can learn, grow, improve yourself and your relationships, and move in the direction of easier, more fun, more effective, more enjoyable. You can help yourself and others, and your help can make a huge difference in the world.

I don't care what you think. There are no answers to life, and you don't get your money back. Acceptance may work for you, but it's not “the answer”….

That's just it. You got it. There are no answers that will make life easy and perefect. You'll never get it all right. So accept that, and use it to keep on working to make so many many things better, easier, happier, more fun, more interesting, kinder, gentler….

I've been a devout Catholic all my life, and find many answers to my questions through the teachings of this church. Does acceptance square with the teachings of Catholocism? Is acceptance a concept or practice I can learn through my church, perhaps using a different vocabulary? Or is acceptance contradictory to Catholic or Christian teachings? Or is it somehow additional?

Saint Teresa of Avila was a great accepter. One of her prayers is: “Let nothing upset you, let nothing frighten you. Everything is changing; God alone is changeless. Patience attains the goal. Who has God lacks nothing. God alone fills all our needs.”

To me, Saint Teresa “believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things,” as Paul exhorted. She accepts life as it is, and then turns to God moment-to-moment to ask for sustainment, enlightenment, grace, courage–whatever help is needed to get her through the present moment with flying colors.

Many of the great religions encourage submission to the teachings of the church, which feels a lot like acceptance of “what is.” If it is your wish to be a faithful Catholic, accept the church and it's whole teaching, and accept your life within that role. If you wish to learn from the church's teaching, but want to reserve the right to pick and choose what seems right for yourself, then accept that. What's sometimes hard is being in-between, resisting certain teachings every time a difficult moment comes up. There will be plenty of times–whichever way you decide to go–when it will be hard for you to accept, and to know what to do. (Remember? You'll never “finally” get everything right?) So just accept who-you-are, within the-church-as-it-is-right-now, and then move forward on your life, your learning, your goals, your dreams.

I'm not particularly interested in improving myself or my life. I have my hobbies, my work, my friends, and I'm content. Does acceptance have anything to offer me?

You may already be a very accepting person–of yourself, of others, of life. You may have already learned this very necessary lesson, and if so, you are fortunate. Contentment, involvement, good relationships–all are fruits of acceptance. Complacency and settling/resigning are not acceptance. They feel bad, and set up their own feelings of regret, defiance, anger, resentment, resistance. If you don't often feel this way, you're contented/accepting. If you often feel upset, probably you've “settled” for something less than you want, and could benefit from considering and accepting your own “settling,” complacency, resignation…as what you have right now. Such acceptance will encourage you to wake up, and begin to move past it, to more satisfaction.

My life companion and dearest friend is suffering and dying. How can acceptance help me?

Acceptance doesn't lead to a life of continual bliss and happiness. Life has its really hard times. What it can help you do is not add more troubles onto your present feelings of sadness and feelings of loss. Present moments are hard enough to deal with without adding lots of past and future “stuff”–anger, regrets, resentment, fear, guilt, confusion, uncertainty, feelings of loss and injustice, and so on.

Accepting “what is,” as is, each day, each moment, fully in the present, the best you can, helps free you from constant resistance, fighting, pushing away, hating, resenting–judging what is–which takes up a huge amount of energy, and simply exhausts us. Just quietly “being” with your sadness without resisting/judging it, or the way things are, will allow you to move on to better moments, and to keep on giving in the present moment, keep on loving, keep living, keep on creating good things.

How can one reconcile the loss of a child, a beautiful, innocent young child? How can acceptance help me with such a great sorrow and regret?

None of us know what the world is for, nor what the future holds, nor what eternity has in store for us. We all make guesses, but no one knows. You don't have to face eternity with your loss. You only have to accept the present moment, and move on with your life, because you don't know what forever holds.

When memories and sadness come up, let them be. Don't push them away, and don't dwell on them. Just let them be. Don't listen to all your thoughts about the past or the future, don't get absorbed in visual memories, don't get swept up in emotional reactions, if possible. Just be with your sadness.

Although moments of sadness may always come up, freeing yourself from all past and future sadnesses and instead just fully experiencing your present moment of sadness–for this moment, not for all time–will help to free you to move forward, to keep contributing to your life and to the lives of others, to live more and more moments hopefully and meaningfully, even joyfully.

Everyone around you needs you. If you can accept your feelings of loss, just for the present moment, then those around you won't feel they've lost you, too….


My Father the Terrorist

He was a man who would kill and maim innocent children and civilians if he was told to do so by his leaders … Who would boldly face certain death for his beliefs … Who believed that death and destruction solved problems … Who believed in retaliating violently, and avenging losses … Who would kill anyone he was told was a threat to his safety, home, land, family, traditions and beliefs … Who would kill and die anywhere in the world to further his people’s interests, and to spread their ways around the world ….


He was a man who thought terror a reasonable means of achieving political, social and economic goals.


He was also a U.S. Army career officer, a highly decorated war hero, attorney, horseman, poet, woodsman, musician, scratch-handicap golfer, linguist, historian, and gentle, patriotic, idealistic, loving son, husband, brother, friend … father.


My father.


With such an admirable, lovable person in my family, how could I ever come to see soldiers in any way similar to terrorists, when they seem so completely different to everyone else?


True, both soldiers and terrorists deal in violence and death. But surely a righteous cause justifies a violent means? So, are terrorists ever right? Are soldiers often wrong? Is it possible that the problem is violence itself?


What could soldiers and terrorists possibly have in common?


Both soldiers and terrorists are often idealistic (or religious) youth, drawn to the disciplined, hard, masculine life and camaraderie of like-minded patriotic friends who share their desire to contribute to a better world. Soldiers and terrorists alike hope they won’t have to kill or be killed, and certainly not maimed, tortured or imprisoned, but yearn instead to do some good, to see the world, make a living, and maybe get in on some of the action they’ve seen in the movies.


Soldiers and terrorists often join up because they haven’t found alternative work they feel as passionate about. Both soldiers and terrorists often feel angry about the way the world is, and about their own lives, too. They feel their backs are against the wall, it’s someone else’s fault, and blood must be shed to right the wrongs.


Both soldiers and terrorists are fiercely loyal to armed forces of sorts, especially to their esteemed leaders and fellow-travelers. Soldiers take pride in being part of thrilling national armies; terrorists take equal pride in being part of glorious insurgencies against tyrannies or foreign invasions. Soldiers everywhere fight for governments they look up to and trust. Terrorists fight against governments they consider oppressive, illegitimate, unfair or unrepresentative. Both soldiers and terrorists, however, believe that what they’ve learned from their culture is true; both also believe they are right.


Statesmen put their faith in negotiation, believing that even infinite diplomacy is ultimately more effective, humane, lasting, ethical—and less costly, in every sense—than recurrent, endless escalations of violence which create new problems for future generations while leaving old ones unresolved. Seasoned diplomats resign themselves to accepting that a certain amount of horrific injustice will unavoidably be inflicted upon even the just. Nevertheless, they resist threatening more violence, or using past injustices to argue for adding to the total sum of injustice.


Soldiers and terrorists, on the other hand, trust that somehow their violent acts will alleviate conflicts, solve problems, and create lasting peace. Soldiers and terrorists alike count on charismatic political leaders who often possess dubious legitimacy and logic, unreliable integrity, small abilities and selfish hidden agendas. Soldiers and terrorists nevertheless count on such fallible leaders to negotiate for them, and to tell them when their approaches to political change (peaceful protest, diplomacy, cooperative organizing, and other tedious and deliberate efforts within “the system”) seem not to be “working.” Both soldiers and terrorists believe their decisions to use violence are moral, since they’re following orders from a higher, more knowledgeable authority.


Many youthful idealists sign up for soldiering and terrorizing because they find action more comfortable than talk. Compared with diplomats and statesmen who’ve spent lifetimes acquiring subtle understandings of regional issues, history, culture, conflicts old and new, trade, treaties, protocol, language, negotiation and communication, soldiers and terrorists (and politicians) often have short fuses, and limited, black-or-white/right-or-wrong views on political realities and options.


One reason so many young men (and women) are enlisted to die in terrorist violence and war is that those with more life experience are less likely to jump in to violence as wholeheartedly and innocently as the more easily-persuaded young.


Soldiers and terrorists alike, in a sad, special sense, are defeatists; they’ve chosen their careers because they are philosophically prepared to turn to violence at a moment’s notice, whenever politics-as-usual is declared to be insufficient to insure their group’s safety or to protect or promote their interests. Although both soldiers and terrorists are often religious, they both reject, as unrealistic, too-difficult and “vague,” the universal teachings of religious faiths everywhere: treat others as you would wish to be treated, love thy neighbor as thyself, be meek and mild, thou shalt not kill, blessed are the peacemakers, be as gentle as doves, forgive seventy times seven, turn the other cheek, do unto others as you would have them do to you….


When urgently exhorted to war or to terrorist action by demagogues and impatient, opportunistic leaders, inexperienced soldiers and terrorists often turn too quickly toward alpha-male, testosterone-based, kill-or-be-killed, survival-of-the-fittest solutions. They and their less-experienced leaders find protracted negotiating an effeminate sign of weakness, a waste of time, preferring instead to rely upon immediate, power-based solutions such as lethal weaponry and overwhelming force.


When soldiers and terrorists see trouble coming, they are trained to shoot, not talk, to prevail and overpower, to shock and awe, never give a inch, and never show weakness. They look for advantage, not fairness; dominance, not equality. They see enemies, not future allies, and react to fear by inducing more fear in their foes.


Of course, both soldiers and terrorists alike invariably fervently believe that they are the good guys, “our” guys in the white hats—valiant saviours, protectors—while the evil ones opposing them are the bad guys in the black hats, the “enemy”—blood-thirsty, soulless, unfeeling, vicious, ignorant, faithless, cowardly, stupid, inhuman.


Sadly, both soldiers and terrorists believe in and contribute to the widely-accepted cultural notion that their violent roles are necessary and useful ones that will make an overall positive difference, at least for their side. Both soldiers and terrorists justify the chaos they leave behind them—the blighted lives, shattered dreams and pointless, gruesome deaths of civilians and combatants on both sides, the wanton killing of innocents from accidents, starvation, disease, economic disruption, and conventional and nuclear bombs—by blaming the stupidity, intransigence, and cruelty of their enemies, or by chalking up their own abhorrent results to “necessary collateral damage”—morally virtuous, because essential to a worthy cause.


Both soldiers and terrorists believe that violence saved “us” in the past and will save “us” again in the future—forgetting that only living victors get to write the history books, and that alternative non-violent solutions have never been given anything like a fair trial, have never received anything like equivalent consideration and financial and leadership support.


Both soldiers and terrorists choose any time, place or method necessary to defeat their enemies and win their wars, maximizing strategic, economic and political advantages, and minimizing losses. Both soldiers and terrorists believe that any means, however cruel and unfair, are justified by their own often changing noble ends and causes.


Older, battle-weary soldiers and terrorists gradually lose their faith in violent solutions, bitterly shutting down their sad memories. A few hold onto their past convictions even more strongly, angrily defending them. Many keep right on walking the lonely paths they’ve carved out. A gutsy few manage the difficult shift to exploring new kinds of civilian or military contributions.


Ninety percent of the victims of both terrorism and war are civilians….


It is difficult indeed to change the way one has traditionally seen soldiers and terrorists, to reverse millennia of cultural conditioning, to come around instead to recognizing that both soldiers and terrorists began as well-meaning, misguided victims themselves, brainwashed into analogous goals, methods and results which both later find repugnant, impossible to live with and to explain.


Every mother’s son, every child’s father, every lover’s darling, every beloved brother and friend, whether soldier or terrorist, was born to be a giving, kind, tender and beautiful good soul, the person we love and know them to be.


The only difference between our soldiers and their terrorists (and soldiers) is that the ones we love use violence for our side, to defend and further our interests, while the ones we hate use violence to fight for their side. Without a doubt, both ours and theirs, soldiers and terrorists alike, resort to unspeakably appalling violent solutions to achieve political, social and economic goals.


My gentle father would, I think, have been proud to honor the selfless sacrifices of all our courageous and well-intentioned dead and maimed, past and present … all our brave revolutionary sons and daughters … all our uprising slaves and civil war champions on both sides … in fact, all courageous soldiers and veterans and impassioned idealists everywhere, from every time and place … and all their victims, with this request:


May we reconsider whether we wish to repeat the violent mistakes of the past. May we recognize that there are as many ways to live in this world as there are people who live in it. May we accept that people everywhere want the same thing—to live out their lives in peace. May we all work non-violently to understand and serve the priorities of others everywhere who are different from us. May we learn the thousand and one non-violent ways to resolve conflicts….


Life on earth is at stake.


I think my father would have been proud to see today’s soldiers and terrorists put down their weapons and become non-violent warriors fighting this century’s magnificent battles by protecting people everywhere from the ravages of disease, injustice, hopelessness, hunger, greed, environmental degradation, natural disasters, ignorance, addiction, prejudice, nuclear proliferation, crime, poverty, war, terrorism, and yes, violence itself. I think my father would have saluted their expanded allegiance and heartfelt pledge, to protect, respect, and support, with their lives, and not only their deaths, human life everywhere.


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We Need Not Add to the Sum of Human Injustice

The Washington Post reports that soon after 9/11, President Bush established secret CIA prisons in foreign countries, and authorized agents there to rescind the human rights of captured suspected terrorists, and to subject them to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. I remember when many Americans thought Soviet-style KGB undercover skullduggery and thuggery sufficient proof that the Russians were “the bad guys….”


The 21st century is a risky time for everyone; however, not all nations are targets of international terrorism. The safest countries today aren’t those brandishing the biggest sticks, but rather those courageously upholding impeccable international reputations for humility, fairness and diplomacy.


Secret government agencies can turn on their own citizenry; power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We wouldn’t need a judiciary if it were always obvious who the bad guys are. Courts are instituted to protect presumed innocents—even suspected terrorists caught in the act, even our own “strange” citizens who may seem guilty—until their guilt is proven by a court of law. If any individual is excepted from due process, if any person can be held above or below the law, then we have no rule of law.


We can’t prevent more 9/11’s, save our soldiers, or keep our grandchildren safe, as long as we keep adding to the number of our envious, frightened, angry enemies. It is up to American citizens to risk peace, not war; to risk caring, not fear; to risk generosity, not hate. We can elect proven statesmen to lead our country, and together offer to citizens of all nations the high moral ground of a sound spiritual and ethical example.


Our most powerful “weapon” is our national reputation. As long as the U.S. is seen as a rich, selfish country careless of human welfare and disrespectful of international opinion, no stirring words, no proud history, and certainly no amount of spending on intelligence and defense can protect us from our multiplying enemies.


Along with the rest of our fellow-earthlings, Americans risk suffering terrible injustices during this best and worst of all possible centuries. However, we need never choose to add to the sum of human injustice.


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