Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Roadside Stand

Throughout Baghdad, there are numerous roadside stands which sell sodas (or, for those joining me from the midwest, pop), and cigarettes. As an aside, cigarette smoking is prevalent in Iraq among the locals and the soldiers. It is therefore advisable to keep a pack of cigarettes and a lighter for breaking the ice with adults, and a pack of gum for the begging children in your pockets at all times. The cigarettes sold over here are often repackaged. That is, they may say Marlboro, for instance, but if you examine the cigarettes, you will note that there is a change in the color of the paper just a little beyond the filter. The cigarettes are then filled with the cheapest floor clippings, but sold as name brand.

Back to the story, while on my way back-and-forth between the gates, I passed by one of these stands. The stand owner had cold Pepsi (Pepsi being the dominant American soda in Iraq), and I purchased one. It was in a bottle, and the stand operator wanted the bottle back for the deposit. He had a chair by the stand, and this gave us the opportunity to talk. He asked if I was Amerique, and I said, "Yes, I am American." The response was the same I have seen from so many of the locals. A broad smile, followed by his thoughts on the regime. His conversation went something like this:

America good. American people good. American mind good. The Iraqi people have much. Much wealth. We have two rivers for fish. A port. Oil. But we had bad government. We needed good government. Iraq and America need each other. Iraq has much wealth. And America mind good.

Toward the end of the unprompted soliloquy, a machine gun burst sounded. Close. Close enough to smell the burnt powder. An American Humvee passed by a second later. It was unclear at first whether the Humvee had taken fire, or whether the Humvee had fired. The stand owner quickly suggested that the Humvee had accidentally fired, and, after surveying the situation, that seems right (and I couldn’t see anything hit). If the stand owner resented the American presence, this was the perfect opportunity to say so. But he didn’t. He dismissed the misfire, and went right back on to praising America, expressing the need for American-Iraqi cooperation, and extoling the need for a good Iraqi government.

In my experience, this is a reasonable sample of Iraqi sentiment. The people’s pride is admittedly a bit deflated because of the American presence, but they generally support what it is that America has done. Those Iraqis who make the news--the terrorists--are a very small minority in Iraq, and do not share the support of the sampling of Iraqis on the street with whom I have spoken.

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