I am in Baghdad completing my check-out and getting ready to fly back to America. I don’t expect ever to be in Iraq again. I actually do have some fond memories of the place and I expect that they will improve over time, as the hardships fade and the good times are enhanced. The mind works that way. I made lots of friends in Iraq and I will miss them. Already I am thinking how fast the year went. I remember not thinking that at the time, but that is also the way the mind works.
It is quieter in Baghdad now, or maybe that is just my impression. It may be because whenever I have been here before it has been part of some kind of conference, so there were always other transients around. I have the luxury of a “wet” trailer (i.e. one with a bathroom) but I sort of miss Al Asad. With its Marines and its austerity, Al Asad is like Sparta. Baghdad is more like Babylon.
Frem og tilbake er like langt, but it really does make a difference which way you are going. Last year when I was going into Iraq, I was a little fearful and apprehensive but excited. Now that I am going out, I feel satisfied that my part of the job is done but still vaguely apprehensive.
For almost a year, my life has been ordered by the mission and the interesting conditions of being in Iraq. We worked every day. I often forgot the day of the week. I lived and worked with the same people. We shared a purpose and a duty. All that is finished.
I return to home to an America that has largely forgotten about Iraq. The economy is issue # 1 in the election. I don’t think it should be. The economy is a big deal, but the decisions of the president have limited impact on the economy.
If you look at a long term graph of economic factors, you see the waves are long and the incumbent president makes not much difference. (This chart is ADJUSTED for inflation, BTW, and it is the MEDIAN, so it doesn’t show that just the rich got richer.) An economic upturn began in 1982 and more or less continued until today. The terrible conditions of the 1970s are forgotten and we have not suffered anything like the turbulence of the decade following 1973. The economy went down a little in 1991 and recovered in 1992. GHW was president for both. It grew a lot in the 1990s and turned down in 2000. Bill Clinton was president for both. It recovered in 2002, grew a lot 2003-7 and then turned down last year. GW Bush was president for both. What did the presidents do to cause these things? Not much. They reflected worldwide trends. Presidents don’t manage the economy. They just get credit or blame. And the candidates mislead the American people about what they are going to do; like roosters promising to make the sun rise, if they crow long enough eventually they are right.
What happens in Iraq, on the other hand, depends on presidential decisions to a much greater extent. Foreign & security policy is where presidents have a dominant role. That is how our system works. Maybe it is better that people don’t think so much about Iraq. They usually get it wrong. They either think it is a terrible meat grinder or a place we can just leave at our choosing w/o consequences. Not many appreciate the work and sacrifice that brought us this far and the danger that all could be lost. They even think this result could have just happened by itself. People have their own affairs and I cannot really expect anything else. I will answer the questions of anybody who asks, but try not to impose on the others. It will be a challenge. You can see how hard it will be. I started to talk re being in Baghdad and drifted to this.
Anyway, I have not taken part in any of the luxuries (i.e. beer) available in Baghdad. I figure I will wait a few more days until I clear Iraq. I have a layover day in Frankfurt. I bet I can find some good beer there so I don’t need it here. And back home I can engage in the world’s ultimate luxury – being an American in America.