Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sunday Editorial (From Viewpoint)

I was invited to join a number of non-journalists in the York area who will be submitting columns to the local Sunday paper over the next year. My first contribution is on the Iraq war and borrowed from a post I had written some time ago for Viewpoint. It appeared in yesterday's paper:

Feb 11, 2007 - President Bush has taken much criticism, some of it deserved, for the way the post-war has played out in Iraq. Disillusionment with the Iraqis and the rules under which we operate there has led many to favor bringing our troops home as soon as logistically possible. The day may come when we decide to do that, but before the American public signs on to such a step we should understand clearly what withdrawal will entail.

One need not be a military expert to anticipate that the aftermath of an American pullout would likely include at least these seven consequences:

1. Sunni and Shia would be at each others' throats in a desperate civil war for political dominance. It would be a fight for survival because whoever prevails would surely oppress, if not utterly eliminate, the loser.

2. Iran would move into Iraq on behalf of the Shia and to settle old scores with the Iraqi Sunnis dating back to the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. They would doubtless annex the oil fields in the south. Meanwhile, pressure would mount on Sunni nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia to come to the aid of their beleaguered brethren. Turkey would take advantage of the chaos to settle their chronic Kurdish problem by invading northern Iraq. Syria would be sorely tempted to grab some oil fields wherever it could. Iraq would get carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey among its neighbors and would be almost completely helpless to prevent it.

3. Al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations would exploit Iraq's weakness to establish training areas and safe havens in the country from which to launch terrorist attacks around the world.

4. Anyone who had collaborated with or cooperated with the coalition would be marked for torture and death by insurgent forces. This could amount to perhaps hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Iraqis.

5. The chaos of war and the rape of the country's resources would result in severe shortages of food, water, medical care, sanitation and electricity. Refugees would flood into neighboring states and subsist in squalid camps. Perhaps millions of Iraqis would starve or perish from disease if these conditions persisted more than a few months.

6. The United States would be thoroughly discredited and blamed for the misery and strife in Iraq because of our retreat. No nation would ever trust us again to honor a commitment. Pressure from their people would cause governments in Kuwait, Oman and Qatar to insist we abandon our bases there. Other Muslim nations, like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Indonesia, seeing that we are undependable partners in the war on terror, would ratchet back their cooperation. As the last American helicopter flees Baghdad, every Arab nation with enough money will begin looking for nuclear weapons to protect themselves from the Iranians. Nations like Libya, which had given up the quest for nuclear weapons, would feel safe to resume it.

7. Our lack of credibility in the region would embolden Israel's neighbors to settle the "Zionist problem" once and for all. Once we start pulling out of the Middle East, it would be psychologically impossible to reverse course and go back in. The enemies of Israel would see our withdrawal as presenting them with a golden opportunity to wipe Israel from the Earth, and the Israelis would probably resort to nuclear weapons to keep that from happening.
It may be, of course, that none of these things would occur. It may be that in the vacuum created by our absence the Shia and Sunni would turn their swords into plowshares and live amicably with each other.

It may be that other nations would not be at all tempted to grab what they can of Iraq's oil wealth.

It may be that al-Qaida feels content in the hills of Pakistan and wouldn't move in force into Iraq.

It may be that the insurgents would forgive and forget the collaboration of their fellow Iraqis with the infidels.

It may be that Israel's Arab neighbors would feel sorry for Israel in its isolated and vulnerable state and offer to make peace instead of war.

And it may be that the Second Coming will be tomorrow, but all of our experience tells us it probably won't be, and it is our experience which should inform our judgments and policies, especially our foreign policy.

The status quo in Iraq is certainly not acceptable, and we may soon decide that we've done enough there, but, if so, let us not delude ourselves by thinking we are doing something noble or moral by withdrawing. A premature exit would consign hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Iraqis to almost certain death and would earn us the contempt of history for our betrayal.

20 comments:

Rodak said...

"...it is our experience which should inform our judgments and policies..."

Sure. But in keeping with the adage "Those who are not able to learn from history are condemned to repeat it", we must be sure not to think only "post-9/11", but rather to take the long view.
How often, historically, have occupying forces been successful against the local opposition of a determined insurgency? When, in the past, has an occupying military force been able to effect radical changes in the cultural and mores of an occupied people?
What are the precedents which allow us to predict success for our agenda in Iraq?

Anonymous said...
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Civis said...

Building on Rodak...

I'm not an expert on the thinking of middle easterners. I think there are some nuances at work in Iraq, but one thing I think we Americans can relate to, and I have mentioned previously.

The insurgents are not irrational madmen. Imagine that the Soviets had put troops in the U.S., or imagine that China had troops here. It does not matter how nice they were to us, no matter how many photo ops they staged or the economic development plans they came up with or money they pumped into our ecomonomy, we would not rest so long as their combat boots were on our soil.

Dick said...

To Rodak: I think Japan may be a historical precedent, but even if it is not, I don't think we need to change the culture completely in order to be successful in Iraq. We "only" need to persuade the Iraqis to accept the idea that all of their fellow Muslims (and Christians) deserve to be treated equally under the law. This is a concept that doesn't unambiguously violate the Koran so I think that it's not an impossible dream. After all, Turkey and Indonesia have certainly moved in that direction.

To Civis: I share your concern about the attitudes of indigenous people to foreign troops on their soil. This concern must make us careful not to be seen as oppressors. If our presence makes Iraqis feel more secure then they'll tolerate us, perhaps even permit long-term bases, as long as we aren't perceived as a threat to their religion or culture.

After all, we have had military bases in Turkey, UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia (until recently), Kuwait, and elsewhere in the Islamic world so it's not an unrealistic hope that we might be tolerated in Iraq for years to come.

Anonymous said...

Who wrote this? I'm confused.

Maureen

Civis said...

Maureen,

This was written by Dick who has a blog called "Viewpoint" but comments here from time to time. We discussed offline how so many are ill-informed on this issue. As a means to make me keep studying the issue, and since we have different views on the Iraq War, I suggested that we discuss our views.

Rodak said...

Dick--
I think that the analogy between Iraq and Japan is superficial, at best. The most obvious difference being that there was no civil war going on in Japan post-WWII. Nor was there a persistent insurgency with foreign support. Japan did not have three distinct ethnic groups vying for power, each of which had to be dealt with according to its own terms.
The Koran is problematic, in that fundamentalist Muslims are not going to accept any secular law that in any way conflicts with Sharia. This effectively means that Muslim clerics must act a judges, if not rulers, which is the situation we see today in Iran.
Ahmadinejad is pretty much just a hood ornament, meant to give Iran the look of a modern state.
My prescription: withdraw completely from the Middle Eastern Muslims states; both militarily and corporately. Return, for the purpose of trade, when invited, according to prearranged terms, which are satisfactory both to them and to us.
Even, then, however, the Palestinian issue would remain as an obstacle to peace.

Civis said...

"If our presence makes Iraqis feel more secure then they'll tolerate us,"

Dick, if you live in New York and the Communist Chinese control the city, would you tolerate their prescence if they made you feel more secure? I don't think so. "He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither" --Ben Franklin

"perhaps even permit long-term bases, as long as we aren't perceived as a threat to their religion or culture."

Don't you think that long term bases are by necessity percieved as a threat to their religion and culture? Wouldn't you perceive long term Chinese bases as a threat to your religion and culture?

"After all, we have had military bases in Turkey, UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia (until recently), Kuwait, and elsewhere in the Islamic world so it's not an unrealistic hope that we might be tolerated in Iraq for years to come."

Dick, come on my friend. Why do you think terrorists want to attack us? How many of the 911 terrorists was it that were from Saudi Arabia? Wasn't it 15 from Saudi Arabia and 2 from the UAE?

Dick said...

Rodak wrote that:

"I think that the analogy between Iraq and Japan is superficial, at best. The most obvious difference being that there was no civil war going on in Japan post-WWII. Nor was there a persistent insurgency with foreign support. Japan did not have three distinct ethnic groups vying for power, each of which had to be dealt with according to its own terms."

These are all good points, but they only lead to the conclusion that we should not expect turning Iraq around to be easy (as, unfortunately, Sec. Rumsfeld apparently thought it would be). They are not good reasons why we should give up and get out. We should only do that if the situation were hopeless and/or the cost were prohibitively high, and I simply don't see that we're there yet. Parenthetically, there are only two ethnic groups vying for power in Iraq - Arabs and Kurds.

"The Koran is problematic, in that fundamentalist Muslims are not going to accept any secular law that in any way conflicts with Sharia. This effectively means that Muslim clerics must act a judges, if not rulers, which is the situation we see today in Iran."

Maybe they won't in Iraq, but they certainly have elsewhere. Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey, and Pakistan all come to mind. I don't see any reason as yet to think it impossible for Iraq, which has a history of secular government, to do likewise.

Dick said...

Civis,

You wrote that:

"if you live in New York and the Communist Chinese control the city, would you tolerate their prescence if they made you feel more secure? I don't think so."

I don't think the analogy is a good one. We liberated 25 million people from a cruel tyranny in Iraq. We are often the only authority that the people in that miserable land really trust, and they know now that we're not there to rape their land and their women. They also know that we don't want to stay, and they know that if we do leave they and their families will be at the tender mercies of people like al Zarqawi. If I were in a similar situation vis a vis the Communist Chinese I wouldn't like it, but I wouldn't want them to leave.

You quote Franklin's words, "He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither."

I agree with this, but the Iraqis are not sacrificing freedom by having us stay there. They're enjoying both freedom and security because we are there.

In reply to my remark that we have military bases throughout the Muslim world so there's no reason to think that Muslims would necessarily find them wholly unacceptable in Iraq, you said:

"Dick, come on my friend. Why do you think terrorists want to attack us? How many of the 911 terrorists was it that were from Saudi Arabia? Wasn't it 15 from Saudi Arabia and 2 from the UAE?"

I'm not sure I see the point you're making here, Civis. Are you suggesting that terrorists wouldn't hate us and attack us if we didn't have bases in their countries?

Islamists hate us and want us all dead for two primary reasons: 1) We're not Muslims, and 2) We're all that stands between them and the destruction of Israel.

Of course military bases will be resented by extremists, but they will resent us whether we have bases in their country or not. The determining factor should be whether bases are in the best interests of the host country, the region and the world, and whether the strategic advantage to us of having them outweighs the liabilities. I don't know that we can tell at this stage whether they do or don't.

Anyway, it's been a good discussion.

Rodak said...

"Maybe they won't in Iraq, but they certainly have elsewhere. Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey, and Pakistan all come to mind."

Dick--
I think that you are referring to a different "they" than I was. I was specifically referring to *fundamentalist Muslims*. You seem to be referring to moderate and/or secular ones. Both Egypt and Pakistan are barely keeping the lid on their fundamentalists. I'm not conversant enough with Indonesia to comment on the strength of fundamentalism there, but we do know that they are active there from the terror acts in Bali and elsewhere. It doesn't take a majority to enact a revolution. What percentage of the Russians were Bolsheviks, or what percentage of the Germans were Nazis before they took power? The squeaky wheel is one of four.
Turkey, I will give you. Modern Turkey was specifically founded as a secular state, and has enough of a history as such to lead to the conclusion that it has "taken." But modern Turkey was founded by a Turkish leader, not by foreigners--a crucial point, I think.

Rodak said...

"Parenthetically, there are only two ethnic groups vying for power in Iraq - Arabs and Kurds."

Dick--

See definition "2." below of "ethnic." There are three ethnic groups vying for power in Iraq: Kurds, Sunni Arabs, and Shiite Arabs. There would be four ethnic groups if the Christian Arabs were strong enough to vye for power.

Main Entry: 1 eth·nic
Pronunciation: 'eth-nik
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English, from Late Latin ethnicus, from Greek ethnikos national, gentile, from ethnos nation, people; akin to Greek Ethos custom -- more at SIB
1 : HEATHEN
2 a : of or relating to large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background

Rodak said...

"They're enjoying both freedom and security because we are there."

Dick--
This was said tongue-in-cheek, right?

Civis said...

Dick,

"We liberated 25 million people from a cruel tyranny in Iraq."

Read Plato and the writings of our founding fathers. Tyrants are often removed only to be replaced by even crueler regiemes. Nobody is saying that Saddam was a nice guy, but keep a couple of things in mind: 1) The country was stable until we came there and tried to promote democracy at the point of a sword--now a blood bath is inevitable 2) Christians were free to practice thier religion--soon the only Christians in Iraq will be the ones driving an M-1 3) He used to be our ally--how did go from that to being the devil in the flesh?

"We are often the only authority that the people in that miserable land really trust,"

Dick, I don't want to insult you, but truly you are living in a dream world. Here is one place where I think I am qualified to speak with a degree of certain knowledge as I have interacted with Iraquis both in this country and in Iraq. They do not trust us one bit, not even the ones that work for us.

"...and they know now that we're not there to rape their land and their women."

Again, you are way off the mark. These people have been indoctrinated against us, much as we were indoctrinated against the Soviets growing up. They may not think we are there to rape, but they defintely think we are there to benefit ourselves and to control--which is correct. I have to be honest, your comments along these lines make me angry. We have done the Iraqi people wrong. We did not go to Iraq to help anyone but ourselves. If we wanted to help people we would be in Darfur not Iraq and we wouldn't be trading with China. You are probably sincere in your beliefs, but it makes me want to vomit to hear about how we liberated Iraq when we have ruined their country and they will look forward to bloodshed for decades to come. While little Iraqi children are being blown to bits on a daily basis, people who are safe in the U.S. talk as if we care about them.

"They also know that we don't want to stay,"

Yeah exactly. That's why we are building an embassy that is larger than the Vatican. If we don't want to stay, why did we disband the Iraqi army?

"...and they know that if we do leave they and their families will be at the tender mercies of people like al Zarqawi. If I were in a similar situation vis a vis the Communist Chinese I wouldn't like it, but I wouldn't want them to leave."

Dick, look at what a mess the U.S. government has made here at home. Look at what a mess we have made there. I think we have "helped" them quite enough. Remember the 9 most feared words in the Engish langage: "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

"They're enjoying both freedom and security because we are there."

Dick, really. You cannot be serious. Spend one week in Baghdad my friend.

"Are you suggesting that terrorists wouldn't hate us and attack us if we didn't have bases in their countries?"

That and our support of Israel. And this is not merely my opinion. Do you know anyone from the Middle East? I suggest you go to your local university and find the Islamic student group on campus and talk to them for a while.

"Islamists hate us and want us all dead for two primary reasons: 1) We're not Muslims, and 2) We're all that stands between them and the destruction of Israel."

You are partly right on #2. As for #1 this applies only to a small minority, but one which is growing and supported finanically by others only because our actions confirm their suspicions about us.

"Of course military bases will be resented by extremists, but they will resent us whether we have bases in their country or not."

They are resented by more than extremists.

"The determining factor should be whether bases are in the best interests of the host country, the region and the world, and whether the strategic advantage to us of having them outweighs the liabilities. I don't know that we can tell at this stage whether they do or don't."

I think we do know, Dick, and that is why I take the position I take. I originally thought like you did. I went to Baghdad with a few questions, but gave the administration the benefit of the doubt. I didn't think about it a great deal while I was over there. The ones who did drove themselves crazy. When I came back I started studying the issues more, with every hope and intention of finding that my country was doing the right thing. The truth slapped me in the face.

"The true patriot is the man who hates his country enough to change it, but loves it enough to think it worth changing" --G.K. Chesterton

Why don't we learn more about this topic. I propose that you pick a book that will help me have better information on the situation and I do the same for you and we both read both books together and discuss them. If all goes well we can read more. The future of America depends on God's grace and that, in this government by the people, the people know what is going on.

Dick said...

Civis,

I greatly respect and admire the fact that you went to Iraq to see for yourself what's happening there, but I also suggest that if your experience in that country occurred more than a year or so ago it might not be quite as relevant to our conversation as it would be had it been more recent. The majority of observers I've read who have been there recently or who are there now, people like
Michael Totten (http://www.michaeltotten.com/), http://www.michaelyon-online.com/ Michael Yon (http://www.michaelyon-online.com/), and Omar and Mohammed at http://iraqthemodel.blogspot.com/ Iraq the Model (http://iraqthemodel.blogspot.com/)have a much different take on the situation as it exists now than what you do.

These guys are not Pollyannas but they report a major shift in attitudes toward the Coalition forces and a growing respect and trust for Americans among the Iraqis at every level of society. They also write that places like Baghdad are not nearly as violent as they seem on the nightly news, and that many troops in Fallujah and Ramadi report not having had to fire their weapons in anger for months. Iraq is simply not the same place it was a year ago. It's not what anyone would like it to be, of course, but what's important is the trajectory it's following and the trajectory seems encouraging.

That's not to say that I would want to live in any of those places, but then there are a lot of neighborhoods in the U.S. I wouldn't want to live in either, and many of them are at least as dangerous and violent as many places in Iraq. To withdraw when the trend lines are positive is like a coach pulling the football team off the field in the fourth quarter just as they appear to be driving for the winning score because he's concerned about the toll the game's taking on his team.

At any rate, I'd like to make several comments on this paragraph from your most recent reply:

"I have to be honest, your comments along these lines make me angry. We have done the Iraqi people wrong. We did not go to Iraq to help anyone but ourselves. If we wanted to help people we would be in Darfur not Iraq and we wouldn't be trading with China. You are probably sincere in your beliefs, but it makes me want to vomit to hear about how we liberated Iraq when we have ruined their country and they will look forward to bloodshed for decades to come. While little Iraqi children are being blown to bits on a daily basis, people who are safe in the U.S. talk as if we care about them."

First, if it were true that we went there just to help ourselves we certainly wouldn't have stayed and sunk so much money into building infrastructure. Iraq has cost us a fortune and all we have gotten out of it in material terms is the removal of a man we feared was a serious threat to the region and possibly to the world. It's hard to credit the claim that our motives there are purely selfish.

Second, even if your claim is true that the administration had only selfish reasons for going into Iraq that's not the reason why a lot of people who supported the invasion in the first place did so. There were good reasons for going into Iraq whether the administration was motivated by them or not.

Third, whatever the merits of those reasons they have little bearing on whether we should stay or leave now that we're there.

Fourth, what's the difference between helping people who are being killed by their government in Sudan and helping people who were being killed by their government in Iraq? I wish we were in a position to help the people in Darfur, but if we did I'm sure that many innocent civilians would be harmed. Should we, were we able and inclined to send troops to Sudan, refrain from doing so because innocent Sudanese would be killed?

Fifth, I don't know what metric you're using to ground your claim that we've ruined Iraq, but by most measures I've seen the country is better off today than it was in 2002. Saddam, to take one example, had created an ecological and human rights disaster by draining the marshes south of Baghdad. Hundreds of square miles of wetlands upon which thousands of people (Marsh Arabs) depended for their livelihood were dried up and destroyed. Since the invasion these marshes have been fully restored by the Army Corps of Engineers. Add to this all the schools, hospitals, homes, wells, roads, and bridges we've built and our ongoing efforts to bring the oil industry and electrical generating system up to standard. I don't see how this record supports your claim that we're only in it for ourselves or that we've destroyed the country.

Sixth, the statement about Iraqi children was a bit of a cheapshot. Nevertheless, Iraqi children have far more to fear from al Qaeda than they do from us, and their only real hope is that we succeed in our attempt to eliminate that threat from Iraq. If I had a child in Anbar or Diyalah I would be scared to death that the Americans would leave town and not come back. I think most Iraqi parents probably feel the same way.

I like your suggestion that each of us choose a book for the other to read and discuss. The only difficulty is that, if the book is going to be related to the question of withdrawal from Iraq, I think it should be based on relatively recent trends in the country, and it'll be hard to find a book that's that current. Perhaps helpful journal or magazine articles might be easier to find and easier to read. Let me know what you think.

Dick said...

Rodak,

I don't want to make an issue of this, but it makes no more sense to me to call Iraqi Sunni Arabs and Iraqi Shia Arabs different ethnicities than it does to call Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics different ethnicities.

Civis said...

Dick,

As for all of the "new" information you cite, there have always been people willing to paint a rosy picture. A few months down the line it is obvious that it was BS. It's the same BS they were saying when I was in Iraq. We used to get Fox news in the Dining Facility and we were like, what have these guys been smoking? Don't believe everything you read or see on the tube my friend. That is why I suggest you read outside of your point-of-view- safety-zone.

To seek to read something "current" is to get lost in the propaganda mire. I believe there is a quote from--was it Rove?--that they spit out BS faster than anyone can keep up. It's part of their plan and it is how they have silences the real experts--because they take a hint from the ancient sophists and spew more BS than the people with the turth can refute in the 6-min Fox news spot and the expert looks like an ass and won't go on tv again.

As for my comment about children, that is not a cheap shot. That's reality. Those poor people are getting killed by the double dozens.

Regarding our selfish reasons, have you forgotten the state that Our president comes from? His family money? Who has done well through this all? Big Oil. The other advantage is that the chickenhawk "experts" think we can ensure our safety by dominating the world. Their plan was to weaken Iraq (which we did) then make an example of them and start a chain reaction. Unfortunatley it didn't work like they thought it would. Read the history of our involvement in the middle east. It is a story of shifting loyaties depending upon whatever we though served our interest.

I think I want to insist that we read more on this issue. There is a lot I don't know, but the fact that you seem to be so blind to the position of those who disagree with you tells me you need to do some homework. Are you up to it?

Rodak said...

Dick--
Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants certainly are different ethnic groups. They are, in fact, more different than are Arab Sunni and Shiites. The Catholics are Gaelic-speaking Celts, and the Protestants are English-speaking Anglo-Saxons.

Dick said...

Civis,

You wrote: Don't believe everything you read or see on the tube my friend. That is why I suggest you read outside of your point-of-view- safety-zone.

I'm curious as to how you know the extent of my reading or of what it consists. If I read people who are actually in Iraq, some of whom are Iraqis, are their views only trustworthy if they conflict with my own?

To seek to read something "current" is to get lost in the propaganda mire.

Perhaps, but to read something dated is get lost in a welter of events which are largely irrelevant to the strategic and moral questions involved in determining whether staying or leaving is the best policy. Those questions are independent of the question of whether we should have gone in there in the first place and whether we handled the two and a half years after the invasion properly.

As for my comment about children, that is not a cheap shot. That's reality. Those poor people are getting killed by the double dozens.

Yes, but to suggest that those in the U.S. who "talk as if they care about them" are insincere is very unfair. It is just as unfair as if I asserted that those who demand that we pull out and leave the Iraqis to al Qaeda don't care at all about the children who will be starved, butchered, and raped.

Read the history of our involvement in the Middle east. It is a story of shifting loyaties depending upon whatever we though served our interest.

You make this sound more nefarious than I think it has been. We have never wavered in our support of Israel. We did abandon Saddam, but only after he invaded Kuwait and only after it became clear that he was a psychopath harboring terrorists like Abu Nidal on his soil. We also refused to prop up the Shah of Iran (under Carter) but we abandoned Iran only after the Shah was overthrown and the mullahs took our embassy personnel hostage. We have been faithful to our commitments to Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, even after the latter kicked our military out of their country and spawned the majority of the 9/11 hijackers.

the fact that you seem to be so blind to the position of those who disagree with you tells me you need to do some homework.

Is this a joke? What do you mean by "blind"? Is someone "blind," in your opinion, simply because he doesn't find the other fellow's argument persuasive? I'm not blind to the arguments against my positions, Civis, I've been debating them with people for over three years. I've read or heard most of them before, and I've changed my mind about a number of matters related to Iraq, but I'm not going to change my mind about withdrawal until someone can demonstrate that the case I made in the article you posted is wrong. You and others have expressed strong disagreement with it, but surely we agree that the mere expression of disagreement is not much of an argument, much less a good one.

Are you up to it?

Depends on what you have in mind. Like I said in a previous comment, unless you want to set aside our discussion on withdrawal and expand the conversation to cover the Iraq war in general or our Middle East policy, anything over a year old is going to be outdated. But let me know what direction you'd like to move in.

Civis said...

Dick,

Sorry I've been so slow in responding. I would propose we read something big picture, not try to drink from the fire hydrant of BS from either side of the debate, not overanalyze a snapshot from the past.

I propose something (some two things actually--we each pick one) that will help us understand the region, the issues, the history of our involvement, our interests, the players in the news and behind the scenes etc./things along those lines.

To me is seems like a good approach. We're both pretty passionate about this and we can argue till we're blue in the face. Neither of us will probably be convinced by the other, but I think if we discussed a couple of books and bring both our perspectives to two books with different perspectives, we could both grow.

A post is forthcoming on this, but the reason I started blogging is that I am wanting to continue growing and I think it's easier with fellow travelers.