Bringing Iraq Back Home

Advert for disabled veterans Joshua Tree, 2004.

San Francisco, April 2008

Every weekday morning, I watch the news as I pick up our bedroom before heading off to work. Last Friday was no different.

Hoping to catch the all-too-brief snapshot of CNN’s international channel that we get here in the US between 8 and 9 AM Pacific time, I switched on the TV, which, as I discovered, was already tuned to what looked like a European news program.

“Over ten thousand veterans have committed suicide since coming home from Iraq,” I could hear an American-accented voice saying, as I folded my wife’s puppy dog-themed red pyjamas.

Unnerved by what I’d just heard, I looked up at our television screen wondering if the channel was tuned to CNN. My suspicions proved correct. It wasn’t This was the morning broadcast of Russia Today, which, unsurprisingly, was covering America’s Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan conference, a reprise of the similarly-named 1971 event, in which Vietnam vets such as John Kerry spoke out against the war in Southeast Asia.

As inclined as I was to dismiss this broadcast as a polemical exercise by an anti-American news channel, these figures didn’t seem all that far off. Our neighbour works as a physical rehabilitation specialist at a local VA hospital where the majority of her clients are soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The stories she’s told me about their state of mind, (and their bodies), sound like obvious recipes for suicide.

Broadcast the day after the 5th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, this depressing disclosure capped off a stream of bad news that week. From the rising US casualty rate (confirmed on 27 March at 4K) to the increasingly chaotic state of the economy, last week, it felt as though the entire country was taking inventory on the various ways in which the war has begun to tear at the fabric of life here.

This feeling is made more pronounced by the fact that my view is one that is both that of an insider as well as an outsider, as an Israeli as well as an American. Thus, reading all of the glowing reviews of Republican Presidential nominee John McCain’s visit to Israel last week in the Israeli press, I felt myself growing increasingly uncomfortable with the correspondence between what Americans were waking up to and how Israelis were reacting to McCain.

Though the Arizona senator’s positions are largely indistinguishable from those of Clinton and Obama, there is a particular spirit to his approach to the region that, like Bush, is both ideologically and morally impervious to the mistakes America continues to make in Iraq.

Or, to put it in the words of a US colleague, “Like Bush, McCain just doesn’t get it. His problem is that though his reasons would be different, he’d still be willing to do it all over again.”

So, how might one explain the preference Israel showed for McCain? Is it ideological, or is it due to a justifiable anxiety about the mess that the Americans will leave Israel with if they withdraw from Iraq?

Don’t discount how concern over how such a move might further empower Iran (despite how the American invasion of the country has already done so) motivates such flawed judgment calls. Fear continues to play an enormous role in informing many Israeli positions on Diaspora politics.

The problem is that these kinds of dynamics do not necessarily play out well anymore abroad, especially in crisis situations like the one that America is presently undergoing.

Everything that is wrong with the Bush Administration, and how it has run the country the past seven years is epitomised by how the situation in Iraq has impacted the US economy and injured nearly 30,000 American troops so far. The figure is not as high as Vietnam, but the combination of events feels unprecedented.

This is how most Americans view the conflict, even if they believe the invasion was justified. Why make Israel complicit with this situation? This is the risk we take when we fail to properly qualify ourselves in relation to domestic American politics.

This doesn’t mean we have to shut up about Iraq. We can have our opinions, and share them. But only if we make a more serious effort to qualify our preferences with a more profound sense that as Israelis, we don’t take for granted the toll this war has taken on America.

Photograph courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.