I remember before the war started in Iraq, watching Dennis Kucinich debate the Bush administration's Richard Perle on television. Kucinich said that if we went to war there would be hand-to-hand combat in Baghdad, to which Perle patronizingly responded that Kucinich clearly didn't know what he was talking about.
Today, there is hand-to-hand combat in Iraq.
Those who think comparisons to Viet Nam are facile, might want to think again. Those who think we are demonstrating for the entire world to see the unbeatable power of the United States, might want to think again. Those who think what we are doing in Iraq is somehow defeating terrorism, might want to think again.
It is hard to bear the thought of the fear our soldiers must be feeling now. They are surrounded by people they were told would see them as liberators, so many of whom now see them as an occupying army. Perhaps if we had had a real plan for what to do after strutting our macho-gone-mad display of "Shock and Awe," we would indeed have won the hearts of the Iraqi people. But clearly, we had no real plan for doing so. We seem to be very efficient at waging war, yet almost inept at waging peace.
As it is, we hear quotes such as this one from a forty-year-old college graduate in Iraq, who himself was imprisoned for two years by Saddam Hussein yet now resents the American occupation. When asked by New York Times reporters whether he wasn't grateful to the United States for overthrowing Saddam, he responded angrily, "It was God who finished Saddam, not the Americans. The Americans broke all their promises to us, and they have brought their infidel beliefs to Iraq. We hate them, and they are worse than Saddam."
What the United States government doesn't seem to understand is that you can't just go around destroying people you don't like, and expect all your problems to be over. Behind every Viet Cong there was another one behind the next tree. Behind Saddam there now appears Moktade al-Sadr, and once we've dealt with him, the consciousness he represents will morph into another leader just as troublesome. Until we recognize the importance of our relationship to the hearts and minds of the people of the world, we will continue to inspire enmity despite whatever good intentions we actually bring to the table. You cannot impose your will on other people -- even if your will is for their higher good -- and not expect them to resent you. A nation is a collection of individuals, and individuals are deeply influenced by their feelings. Imposing your will on others is a basically disrespectful stance, and showing disrespect --- particularly to an Arab male, whose culture so focuses on honor and respect -- is psychologically and emotionally inept.
Terrorism is an emotion turned into a political force. Until we recognize that, and deal with emotion and psychology as the political factors they actually represent, we will continue to strut our military power without consciousness or concern with how it feels to other people when we do so. This will lead to disaster. It already has.
Governments tend to approach life from a left-brain, rationalistic perspective - which is fine, except that most people don't. In l997, I met an Egyptian diplomat in Agra, India, where I was leading a spiritual pilgrimage. He told me the following, which I quoted in my book "Healing the Soul of America".
"I do not mean this as a criticism of the United States," he said. "I know the Americans are good men and women. But please try to make them understand; many people in my part of the world feel they have been forced to try to keep up with you, in a race we do not really care to run. Your technology is amazing, but America seems spiritually polluted to many of us. Your ways are not our ways, and while we were tempted for a while to think that your ways should be our ways, we do not think that anymore.
This is the problem, Ms. Williamson, and there will be terrible consequences in the world if Americans do not come to understand this. Islamic terrorists have had such success - if you would call their campaigns a success - because they have been able to persuade millions of peasants that America is bad. It was not too difficult to do, Ms. Williamson. All they have to do is describe the television programs you export to this part of the world, and people are horrified.
Your government does not understand. They do not see how the people feel. We need the American people to understand. Perhaps you will bring more Americans to our part of the world. If they come to understand us, then they will respect us. We would feel that respect, and then I don't think the terrorists would have such success. This is not a job the CIA can do. It is only a job which people can do."
What a tragedy, that our government does not reflect the emotional sensitivity and sophistication of the average American. Until it does, we are all in danger.
Marianne Williamson (www.marianne.com) is an internationally acclaimed author. She has published nine books, four of which have been #1 New York Times bestsellers, including her most recent, EVERYDAY GRACE. Her titles include HEALING THE SOUL OF AMERICA and A RETURN TO LOVE. She also edited IMAGINE: What American Could Be in the 21st Century, a compilation of essays by some of America's most visionary thinkers. Marianne is a part of a citizen lobbying campaign to create a U.S. Dept. of Peace- www.DoPCampaign.org