Benedict XVI’s Easter Sunday remarks in St Peter Square hit a low point, I would think. He said that “nothing positive comes from Iraq.” This is a very skewed report on the realities on the ground. But it might mean that the message the Pope wanted to convey is that of the American Left: “Whatever the good or the bad achievements, it is time to get out.” In other words, not an accurate description, but a prescription for the near future.
When I was invited to the Vatican in 2003, just before the war began, I told the Foreign Minister of the Vatican, Archbishop Tauran, that articles appearing under a Vatican imprint in Civilta Cattolica were blaming the US for seeking oil in Iraq (a hypothetical), while ignoring the real and existing contracts of the French, Germans and Russians for Iraqi oil. This double standard seemed to me hypocritical. The Archbishop winced, and said that perhaps I was being too uncritical of the Americans, and that I needed to factor in the fact that most such Vatican editorials were, after all, written by Europeans from a European point of view. I replied that I expected the Vatican to proceed in a more catholic manner than that.
Those words came back to me when I saw what Benedict XVI had said in his Urbi et Orbi remarks in the Piazza of St Peter’s. They sounded like a standard European view of reality — at least of those Europeans who have always disagreed with the American war aims, and now that things have become difficult and costly want to stick it to the Americans.
I was disappointed in Benedict XVI for being uncritical about this.
Even as he was speaking, an immense protest meeting among Iraqi Shiites was taking shape in the holy city of Najaf. Here were TWO positive things taking place in Iraq on account of the deposing of Saddam Hussein. First, the Shiite holy cities are free and open for feast days, festivals, and pilgrimages from all over, as they were not under Saddam. Second, this particular protest, against the Americans and in favor of Iraqi nationalism, was also free, peaceful, and not only unopposed by Coalition forces but protected and assisted by them.
In addition, there are 200 or so free newspapers and magazines in Iraq now that did not used to be there in the time of Saddam. There are many hundreds of private, nongovernmental organizations and associations of all sorts. In short, civil society is coming back to life, slowly but surely.
A constitutional government is in place, and three major elections have been successfully and bravely held.
True enough, Al Qaeda and other foreign terrorists have been trying to foment, ever since the bombing of the holy and ancient mosque in Samarra in early 2006, a vicious cycle of violence between Sunnis and Shiites. That violence is by far where most ot the civilian deaths in Iraq have been coming from since at least 2004.
Under Saddam, scholars say there were between 75-125 murders of civilians every day. Bad as the murders are now under sectarian vengeance, the numbers of dead every day rarely reach that total, and most days are considerably below it.
Most important of all, perhaps, from a practical point of view today, if the Americans left Iraq in the next six months, who would expect the vengeance killings in Iraq to become less frequent? Most observers on all sides predict a furious bloodbath if the Americans leave too early.
The Coalition forces cannot oblige Iraq to form a successful, patient, slowly maturing democracy. But the Coaliltion forces are giving the people of Iraq the chance to do so — a rare and precious chance in the Arab world of the last one hundred years. Maybe the vision will not succeed. But do not say that the vision itself was not positive. It was, indeed, noble, and carried out with much self-sacrifice, heroism, and devotion to others. Many Coalition forces willingly laid down their lives for the liberty and human rights of people who had earlier been strangers to them. Do not, dear European friends, contemn nor trivialize these generous sacrifices.