“One Hand Can’t Clap”
Talking to Iraqis.


The Sunni man discussed how far too-many educated Iraqis — businessmen (like himself), physicians, engineers, professors — had taken their families out of Iraq because they had the means to do so. “This does not mean they don’t love their country,” he said. But — like most all people (whether they are willing to admit it or not) — “family comes first.”

The problem is the people now trying to stand up and run the country have never done so before, and often find themselves in over their heads.

“Doesn’t mean they are not good people who want a free and secure Iraq,” the Sunni man told me. “They are good Iraqi people, and they do not hate anybody — Christian, Jew, whoever. We all believe in the one God. Believe me when I say, 90 percent of the Iraqis don’t hate.”

He added, “We have a saying in Iraq: One hand can’t clap. It takes all hands together to clap.”

What about the insurgents? “They are the uneducated,” he said. “They don’t know. They don’t understand. They listen only to the people who control them. They are small in number, but big in killing. This is the problem.”

It was the same everywhere I went. The Iraqis of all stripes, talked — so long as they knew I would not publish their names (to do so would make them and their families a target of the terrorists) — and expressed gratitude toward the Americans and the British. They also expressed a fear based on the antiwar rhetoric from Capitol Hill they read in their own papers.

“Surely America is not going to leave us?” one man asked.

I assured him we would not; believing, hoping that the fact of our moral responsibility to these people would ultimately trump white-flag politics in Washington.

The Iraqis are grateful indeed, though they do question our absolute commitment to them. In light of the defeatist rantings of our own Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, John Murtha, and Hillary Clinton; I can’t say I blame them. And people being people, at times I found myself questioning my own trust of others in Iraq.

That night, chatting with former British paratroop captain Charlie Turnbull — one of the residents in the house I was staying who now works for private security firm ArmorGroup — I asked him what assurances we had that the armed Iraqi soldiers guarding us wouldn’t come in the house while we were all asleep and cut our throats.

“There are no assurances,” he said, adding that it has nothing to do with whether or not they are good men. “They are, and as trusted as you can trust anyone in this country.”

But, as Turnbull explained, this is war, and what’s to say what any one of them would do if al Qaeda kidnapped one of their children and threatened to kill the child unless they killed us.

The Iraqis may be fond of saying, “one hand can’t clap.” But there’s another saying I heard in that country — “Desperate times call for desperate measures” — frequently uttered by the Americans and British who seem to understand and — in an odd way — accept the motives behind Iraqis who have been coerced into committing acts of violence.

I considered that every night as I locked the door to my bedroom and glanced at the locked-and-loaded AK-47 assault rifle on the table next to my bed.

A former U.S. Marine infantry leader, W. Thomas Smith Jr. writes about military issues and has covered war in the Balkans, on the West Bank, and in Iraq. He is the author of six books, and his articles appear in a variety of publications.