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Human Condition section, Challenges: Peace series

Designer labels for Iraq
Do we want to live in a world where labels substitute for thinking.

Copyright © 2007 Dorian Scott Cole
About this series.


We are what we think. Once a label has been placed on some one or some thing, we have difficulty seeing beyond the label. It's as if blinders were placed on us. We see the label, instant recognition, we don't have to think any further. Labels are a way of creating spin, especially in political circles. In the past, "neo-conservative" (new conservative) was the designer label to own, and "liberal" was a red mark on the forehead. Today, "conservative" may mean being booted from office, but "liberals" have not yet gained favor. It's a tight-rope out there... and the spin is really hot on the war in Iraq.

The Peace series looks at obstacles to peace and paths to peace.

Political rhetoric is heating up as candidates jockey for the 2008 election, and Bush tries to preserve the power of his presidency. Barack Obama's popularity shows just how much people want to get away from the conservatives - the country is shifting "left." This shift puts Hillary Clinton in a strong position. John McCain's struggling campaign is another strong indicator of how much supporting the Iraq war is going to cost candidates - another strong measure of shift away from conservatism.

For candidates, and issues, this is not such a good thing. It's "abandon all thinking and ride the wave." It's the "focus group" style of sensing what the public wants and wearing a label that represents it. Hillary Clinton makes a very strong message about getting the troops out of Iraq. The real question is, despite the spin, does she really know how to do that without creating major world wide problems?

President Bush wants to save his Iraq policy and his Commander In Chief discretion in wielding military power. His speech to the nation this week on the war in Iraq made a lot of sense. It was a great propaganda piece from building facts around his perspective - great rhetoric (meaning effective oral argument). He continues to label any control over his military power, and any talk of troop reductions, as "failure." Is that what these really are, or is "failure" just a label designed to frighten people away? The US accomplished it's mission of removing Sadam Hussein from power, preventing future destruction for his people, his neighbors, and the world, as well as instability. That was success. Anything beyond that is gravy. The question is, do the facts that bush presents, represent the greater reality in the Iraq area?

Bush continues to label Iraq as a war against terrorism, especially Al Qaida, and he puts up a good argument. An Iraq in chaos is more likely to become a safe haven for Al Qaida terrorists. Isn't it? Except that Al Qaida is the enemy that some Sunni groups let do their dirty work for them. There is little evidence of ideological alignment (jihad, radical fundamentalism). What is happening in Iraq is more of a power struggle between warlords. In fact, Al Qaida's actions in Iraq bring it into disfavor with the people and the tribal leaders.

There was lengthy argument about whether or not Iraq was in a civil war. The argument had the effect of paralyzing opposing senators into inaction. Is it one label or another? What it is, is a time of lawlessness and chaos, with hundreds of different struggles for power, often disguised with the labels of Sunni and Shiite opposition. As long as political powers can fuel the fires of chaos, decisions in the government are prevented from going the "wrong" way. Oil is up for grabs by the Iraq provinces. Is it about oil revenues? That is a great diversionary label to put on it. If people think the battle is over oil, they won't look any farther. If they think it is about Al Qaida, they won't look any farther. If they think it is a civil war, they won't look any farther.

Al Quaida grows stronger. Well that's the apparent opinion of the intelligence community. Operationally stronger. Pakistan is failing to dislodge Al Qaida from its safe havens in Northern Pakistan, along the border with Afghanistan, where the Pakistani government fears to tread. It is a land of strong tribal chiefs who don't like outsiders... except Al Qaida.

What really seems to be happening in the world is a bit more problematic. Operational strength is not as powerful as the ability to polarize people for a cause. People are disaffected by the wars and violence - they have become a recruiting poster and a slogan (label). It isn't Al Qaida groups that are now causing violence. It is people who have been inspired by war (perceived injustice) and inspired by Al Qaida, to act on their own. Just as Al Qaida digs its own grave by the violence they do in Iraq, those warring against the chaos in Iraq are inspiring groups to plot attacks against them.

The strength of this pull is coming to light. Boiled in religious extremism by fanatical Imams in the schools in the Orient, or even in Western countries, and whipped into a fanatical fervor by news saturated with hatred, even doctors are being recruited into the cause. People love a cause. War and violence promote the cause. Most of the real battle here is not fought with guns. It is for the hearts and minds of people. It is a war that will be won by rhetoric, goodwill, and peaceful action.

The insurgents in Iraq want to control their own future. Al Qaida is not in it. Al Qaida and religious radicals want to control our future. Trying to crush Al Qaida in Iraq by stomping on every living thing in Iraq is inspiring Al Qaida and the religious radicals. US politicians are in a war for public opinion, and they are fighting it with labels. The politicians need to quit wearing designer labels and start finding effective solutions.

- Scott

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