The myriad deceptions and errors of the Bush administration's war in Iraq are now all too clear for anyone free of ideological myopia. The sufferings of our soldiers are obvious: constant terror attacks made worse by lack of armor, extended deployments for reservists, and inadequate troops to hold onto any gains made against the insurgents. The debacle has been furthered, though, by the enormous cultural divide separating Americans from Iraqis.
Almost no one administering policy or reporting on the war has any knowledge of the Arabic language nor the historical myths, religious subtleties, or tribal customs of the people. When Iraqis vote, we see purple thumbs; when they die, we see bodies in the street.
In Night Draws Near, Anthony Shadid, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Arab-American reporter of Lebanese descent, presents a poignant corrective to our ignorance. He uses his fluency in Arabic and cultural empathy to get closer to real Iraqis than literally any other American reporter in the region.
Shadid entered Iraq before the 2003 invasion and made numerous contacts among the people. He experienced the invasion and war in their midst, followed their fortunes, and documented their observations in the year that followed. Consequently, we get a ground-level view of the Iraqi people, from the innocent and confused diary entries of a precocious adolescent girl in a poor family to the agonized remorse of a father forced by tribal law to kill a son who had informed for the Americans. Between these extremes, the true complexities of life in post-invasion Iraq come to life through a representative cast of characters -- some optimistic and supportive of change, some ambivalent, some hostile, some opportunistic.
Shadid doesn't spend much time second-guessing American policy. From the testimony he gathers, it's easy to see how it failed from the start. First, American apathy toward lawlessness in the streets and broken infrastructure undermined the initial Iraqi awe with American war-making efficiency. Then, one Iraqi witness after another testifies to the escalating sense of helplessness, outrage, and newly discovered religious fervor that has driven the insurgency for the past two years.
Plenty of American reporters were embedded with our troops, but Shadid embedded himself with the Iraqi people, and their stories deserve to be heard.