My Turn: Administration ignores experts

Posted: Wednesday, September 22, 2004

As I watch things unravel in Iraq, I often wonder how we got into this mess. We were told that there were weapons of mass destruction, ready to be launched against other nations. We were told that because of the imminent danger we would have to go it alone, without the support of the United Nations or our European allies. But who were behind these decisions? What voices were being heard? What were the plans for Iraq after the bombings and military attacks?

After a lifetime in academia, I know that there are anthropologists who have spent many years studying the societies, cultures, beliefs and customs of the Middle East. They live with the people and try to understand their problems, their feelings, their fears, their traditions. Were they consulted? Historians have researched the history of this area and the problems the British had when they tried to control the area that is now Iraq. There are also sociologists, economists, religious experts who have given a lifetime of study to these areas. Were they consulted?

Who was the administration listening to? Were they listening to just the Pentagon strategists who could talk about bombs, destruction, military force, but not about the people they were attacking? Was the administration only listening to those with a self-interest in the oil, the resources of this part of the world? I have a feeling that people, with a massive amount of information and experience in the region were not asked to provide information or advice on what to do, or how to deal with the situation after the military strikes. Why? Maybe because they are "fancy-pants" academics. Is our government really anti-intellectual?

Whoever they were listening to, they now have to admit that their fantasy of a quick, easy military "liberation" of Iraq is not working. The presidential candidates are debating whether to invest hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in Iraq or to find a way to pull our troops out. The latest statistic I have heard is that 70 percent of the Iraqi people don't consider us liberators; they consider our military presence to be an occupation of their country - just as the colonists thought about the British before the American Revolution. To me, it looks like we are simply creating greater animosity toward the United States. Our actions are being used to recruit more terrorists who see our policies not as promoting democracy but simply another "crusade" against Islam. We are simply encouraging suicide bombers and people like them. We should never confuse the war on terrorism with the war in Iraq. These are two entirely separate issues.

Is our government listening to our own people? Are they listening to the people in regard to the needs for the reconstruction and revitalization of the United States? Are they listening to our needs - roads, education, health care, medicare, victims of bombings, hurricanes, disasters, poverty? Or only to the rich and powerful who pour millions upon millions of dollars into campaign funds so they can fleece the American people?

I hope that it is not too late for changes. I hope too that whoever is the next president of the United States has the foresight, the willingness, to listen to those who have knowledge and experience. Sure, when you put a dozen academics into a discussion, you will get different opinions, various viewpoints, disagreements. However, they are voices that should be heard. Let their voices be heard, not just about the Middle East, but about the United States, about the needs of people around the world with different cultures, languages, beliefs and history. The administration needs to listen to them just as much as they listen to the military, the large international corporations, the special interest groups, their friends and relatives.

The election in November is crucial to our future. Wouldn't it be wonderful if here, in Juneau, we had a 90 percent to 100 percent turnout of registered voters? If that were to happen across the nation, maybe those who represent us on the local, state and national level would listen to our voices, not the voices of special interests. Now wouldn't that be a change?

• Wally Olson is an Auke Bay resident and an anthropologist.

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