Saturday, December 02, 2006

Thought-Provoking Tim Rutten Column, But, Of Course, It's A Civil War In Iraq

One of many strange things about the L.A. Times these days is that its best columnists, Steve Lopez and Tim Rutten, are not on the editorial pages at all. Under Nick Goldberg, the editor of the Op Ed page, there really isn't a distinguished columnist, but Lopez and Rutten are almost always both entertaining and thought-provoking in the California section and Calendar.

Never more than today, when Rutten has a column on the ideological divisions in this country that prevent many Americans from calling what is happening in Iraq a civil war.

I guess I run against form. Although conservative in foreign affairs and a supporter of American involvement in Iraq as necessary, I nonetheless have been calling the Iraqi conflict a civil war for some time now. It seems obvious to me, in fact, that there, increasingly, is a Sunni-Shiite civil war gradually spreading out of Iraq to other places in the Middle East, such as Lebanon.

Rutten's column appeared on a day when bombings in Shiite parts of Baghdad killed, according to the New York Times Web Site, at least 51 persons and wounded 86. This, tragically, has become routine, and when the Sunnis strike, it does not take long for the Shiites to strike back. Most of the attacks today in Iraq are not against the U.S. military at all, but simply Iraqis killing each other.

The Pope's suggestion that Islam might be a violent religion has been superseded by clear proof of this, with the internecine warfare now tearing Muslims apart. One of the few things that Bill O'Reilly says that I fully agree with is that the Muslim fundamentalists not only hate Christians and Jews, but they hate each other.

Still, one thing that Rutten says this morning that all of us should be able to fully agree with is this:

"The American people have given every indication that they want to move the debate on Iraq beyond the squalid divisions between red and blue commentators and politicians. They give every indication that they want their news media to tell them the truth about Iraq as best it can be described, and in turn, to tell that truth to power."

But when Rutten also says,"In politics, the conventional wisdom has held for some time that if the public concludes our soldiers were in the middle of a civil war, they would think it hopeless, and want to withdraw quickly," I'm not sure he's actually correct.

The New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, has been saying the same thing for some time, but he may be wrong too.

The ugly truth, as I understand it, is that in our own interests, we cannot afford to bug out of Iraq, even if it is a civil war. In fact, a civil war makes our interests there more manifest.

The Middle East is too important to be left to the Middle Easterners, just as war is too important to be left to the generals. And I believe that when push comes to shove, most Americans will choose to continue to be involved in Iraq. Leaving it, will leave a vital region of the world to the equivalent of the Taliban, with all that forebodes for the rest of the world.

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