An Iraqi-American takes stock of how the Right supported regime change and warns of falling into the trap again.
As a Christian and an American citizen of Iraqi heritage, I want to address a point raised in John Burtka’s recent article defending First Things. Namely, the impact of the War in Iraq on Christians in the country and conservatism in America.
“We do not know what we need to know until we ask the right questions, and we can identify the right questions only by subjecting our own ideas about the world to the test of public controversy,” wrote Christopher Lasch. For me, men like John Henry Newman, Christopher Dawson, Christopher Lasch, and others like them, are models of a life open to intellectual change, to growth, soul-searching. Thinkers willing to learn and change. I do not mean vacillating between opinions, but being willing to self-correct.
I was a confused little girl after we came to America. Missing home, missing the sense of a whole self, torn between the civilization I left behind and the civilization I entered into—who I was and what I was becoming. Always plagued by the desire to understand what it means to be, I concluded that the only way to survive this internal disunity was to reject my Iraqi heritage.
President Clinton’s years in office only cemented my view that the Republicans were the good and moral people. The years I had spent assimilating to the American Evangelical Republican scene culminated in 2000. That year I worked on the ground in California to help George W. Bush get elected. I even shook his hand at a rally. As a listener of Hugh Hewitt and a reader of National Review and The Weekly Standard, I had high hopes. Our man was in office. The vestiges of my heritage made me pro-life and pro-family, and the Republican party claimed these principles. In a contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush, it was a no-brainer.
Quietly and gradually I retreated from the Republican Party and the conservatism on offer. Many American conservatives—natural and naturalized—did the same. Officially I became an independent voter. Yet I never stopped being conservative. Intellectually I turned in on myself. Around that time, I also went through serious life changes. The years passed, but the internal disquiet remained. After years of searching for a sound understanding of what it means to be, a sound understanding of the world around me, I converted to Catholicism. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, and it opened up for me treasures of knowledge. By the light of reason and faith I was intent to rethink everything. I knew I needed to go back to first principles and rebuild from there. It took years, and I am still at it.
Some of those I now disagree with are my friends and acquaintances, I love them even when I think they were, and are, wrong. Some have not fully grasped how influential they were, they have not come to terms with the fact that their ideas killed people, as John Burtka wrote, “their policies have killed, yes, literally killed.” They are wonderful people, but their ideas destroyed many of the people I know and love. People who would never have set foot on American soil had their world not turned upside down.
As a woman seeking holiness, I strive hard to suppress the rage—nay, the righteous anger—I feel at this piece from Fred Barnes. It is a denigration of an entire people. Some individuals are contemptible, but cannot the same be said of us? Do we not also have tyrants and knaves in our midst? Are we not also filled with corruption?
Grateful? Imagine a nation invading us, plundering us, destroying our corrupt leaders (and we have many), uprooting us, creating absolute chaos, instigating internal strife, and telling us we should be grateful for the “greatest act of benevolence one country has ever done for another.” And they would remind us that we should be grateful they destroyed our tyrant.
Are we surprised by the cost of human lives, of flesh and blood, men, women, and children? Could this devastation not have been foreseen? Only those that did not count the cost or turned a blind eye can be surprised at the decimation of Iraq’s Christians. Pope John Paul II certainly warned against it.
And after all that, Sohrab Ahmari writes on April 14, 2018 in Commentary Magazine, “The Christian Case for Invading Syria.” After all that carnage from which we continue to reap consequences, someone has the chutzpah to propose a “Christian” case to decimate yet another country in the Middle East, bringing about the complete liquidation of Christians in the region. The rise of American Christians against their Eastern brethren is grievous.
My friends, can you look me in the eye and tell me that it was a good thing to invade Iraq? Can you look me in the eye and say, “I’m sorry for the collateral damage done to Iraqi Christians, but what we did overall was a good thing? After all, we did depose a tyrant.”
You need not marvel that Donald Trump became president. The American people have judged and they have rejected these ideas. Is it not right then to ask afresh what conservatism means, what went wrong and how we can right it? Should we not be about the business of testing ideas and looking for ways to help our countrymen? The American people do not want billions of dollars squandered on wars. They want money spent on infrastructure, they want jobs, they want to be heard. My principle is to stand with them, to help them, to bring the light of Christ to them.
Conservatism per se does not change, on principle it does not throw the baby out with the bathwater. In order to learn the lessons of the Iraq War, we need to distinguish the baby from the bathwater—that is the struggle.