Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What Went Wrong

[posted by Callimachus]

Spirit of America has always, to me, represented the best of what we went to Iraq to do. It is independent of the military, but works closely with it. It has a high sense of spiritual mission, but is not faith-based. Soldiers and marines in the field initiate the ideas, civilians contribute the funds, and the organization makes it happen.

Of all the charitable donations my wife and I have made the last three years, probably more has gone to SoA than any other destination, unless it be Mennonite Central Committee. Two years ago, I think it was, I asked those who would not be offended by the request to, instead of buying me a Christmas present, donate the amount they would have spent to one of two SoA causes. One of them was the one here described in Ramadi:

My main question back in Ramadi was “how can we help?” That’s the same question I arrived with at Camp Pendleton last week.

In our meeting, as he has many times via email, General Mattis thanked Spirit of America and our donors for supporting the Marines’ efforts to stabilize and bring some improvement to Iraq. He said our support was far beyond any expectations they had. And, he talked quite a bit about the women’s sewing centers for which SoA provided sewing machines. ...

The sewing centers were a particularly high impact project in Gen Mattis’ view. They included day care, computer training and, of course, the ability for women to sew and make some money to support themselves. They also included a “tips” line where an Iraqi woman could make a call to report insurgent/terrorist activity. General Mattis said he knew the “tips” line was used and, although no one can know how many lives were saved, it had an impact. I’ve heard many similar stories, when a small act of kindness led to assistance or information that could save lives.

And for a time it worked. But not for long enough.

Unfortunately, like many symbols of progress, the sewing center in Ramadi was attacked and destroyed by insurgents (it was bombed at night when no one was working there). Gen Mattis thought the sewing center in Habbaniyah was still operating but the Marines had not visited it in some time.

A pile of rubble. Well, my old junior high school is a pile of rubble now, too. It had a motto over the door: "Enter to learn, go forth to serve." I still remember that. The school building is gone, but not its lesson. And its destruction in that case was not much of a lesson, but, perhaps, in Ramadi, women and men walk past the rubble and the twisted machinery every day and remember the choice, the forking path of their nation's future.

Perhaps. Or perhaps it is just a lot of rusted metal and cinder-dust. Did the tip line have anything to do with the "insurgents' " demolition? Who can say? Any more than we can really be sure, without evidence, it was insurgents and not, say, jealous husbands, who blew the thing up.

Was it wise to include a tip line in the whole project? Some would say it wasn't. But there's an argument to be made, too, that the successful path for Iraq up and out of its own prison would have to include not just economic opportunities but a deliberate rejection of the thuggish and backwards goals of the insurgents.

... It was very clear that our sticking by him and his men and women, offering support through thick and thin, meant a great, great deal to him. General Mattis also talked about the difficulty of rebuilding and humanitarian projects in Iraq today. The level of violence is such that the desired linkage between “good deeds and good results” is sometimes broken. Nonetheless, these good deeds do bridge gaps and help improve relations.

I'm now reduced to hope, then, that it all was for something. Some in the military will come home and know that there really was a homefront that was trying to work with them to the best of its ability, and it wasn't all camped out with "Peace Mom." And in Iraq, the story will never be on Al-Jazeera or on CNN, but maybe a few people in that community will remember the Americans came there to do something for them. And they'll pick up the pieces on their own.

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