What Do We Owe Iraq?

> amos.jpg

Public Affairs


This is not another book about the war in Iraq.

Deb Amos, it turns out, is as eloquent on the page as she is on the airwaves as a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio. More than a poetic read, though, Eclipse is an innately human story about the toll of the war; it should be required reading for all of those weighing bombing campaigns and land assaults, and, indeed, for those pontificating in favor of them from Washington think tanks or London editorial rooms.

This is not about W. or Petraeus, COIN or Al Qaeda; this is the story of a middle class -- the kind of vibrant, skilled middle class that one finds lacking in almost every other country in the region -- and what the neoconservative experiment meant for them.

It's potent because it's accessible; because the stories Amos tells are about lawyers and professionals, the college educated and often the more secular leaning. These are, quite simply, the narratives many of us might have faced had we been born Iraqi.

Leaving mosques and hijabs and cultural barriers aside, this is about brothers having to watch sisters sell themselves for their families to survive, about living in exile in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan, unable to use one's education and skills and uncertain how long one's savings can support his or her family. Amos writes:

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Iraqi exiles in Syria had turned to the sex trade for survival. Nearly every war brings prostitution. But in Damascus, girls as young as ten were forced into the trade by parents -- fathers or mothers, who made the deal and lived off the proceeds. Officially, refugees were not permitted to hold jobs and had to manage on whatever savings they had.

The broader argument she offers -- she is, after all, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and thus an academic, no matter how well she and her writing hide the fact -- deals with the tilted balance of power in the region, in favor of the Shi'a Muslims, comprising roughly 10-15 percent, and against the Sunnis, who make up the vast majority.

The "exodus was not the narrative that the Bush administration wanted to project, or acknowledge, and remained invisible to much of the world. The U.S. security plan known as the surge was an American success story, but it was a sideshow for those forced out of homes and neighborhoods in a power struggle that used displacement and exile as a weapon."

I'll never forget a network correspondent describing how sectarian divisions ripped his Iraqi crew members apart over a span of weeks, as those who had once been close friends became, quite literally, mortal enemies. This was a society with perhaps 30 percent marriage across the religious divide that was literally pulled apart at its seams.

Amos builds to a brutally simple question: what do we owe these people?

To anyone who actually believes we've paid the debt, or anyone you know that holds the opinion, Eclipse ought to be on top of their nightstand.

Public Affairs Books; buy it on Amazon; Amos

Presented by

Brian Till is a Research Fellow with the American Strategy Program of the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., and the author of Conversations With Power. More

Brian Till is a Research Fellow with the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. He writes on foreign policy, the strengths and shortcomings of the millennial generation, and the perils of the digital age. Previously a nationally syndicated columnist, he is the author of a book of interviews with former global leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Fernando Henrique Cardosso, Bill Clinton, F.W. de Klerk, and Pervez Musharraf: Conversations With Power.

Saving the Bees

Honeybees contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy. A short documentary considers how desperate beekeepers are trying to keep their hives alive.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Global

From This Author

Just In