A Ray of Hope

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If you’re optimistic. If you’re not, a glance down the road not taken that should have been taken.

James A. Gavrilis writes on the Mayor of Ar Rutbah. Foreign Policy’s summary lede is this:

Amid the chaos in Iraq, one company of U.S. Special Forces achieved what others have not: a functioning democracy. How? By relying on common sense, the trust of Iraqis, and recollections from Political Science 101. Now, their commander reveals the gritty reality about nation-building in Iraq, from the ground up.

The setting of the story is not a quirk, not a friendly, secular Kurdish village that already knows thew ground rules of American-style democracy and is ready to take charge of itself. Ar Rutbah was a mini-microcosm of what’s so difficult about Iraq. The U.S. experience there reads like a metaphor for the whole country and the whole war:

As our long column of tan trucks rode down Iraq’s Business Highway 10 at 6 o’clock in the morning on April 9, 2003, I focused on my instincts and battle training, keeping an open mind and preparing for whatever lay ahead. After three weeks of intense firefights, the Fedayeen Saddam fighters had finally slithered away. The last thing I expected to do once we entered Ar Rutbah, a Sunni city of about 25,000 in the Anbar province near Jordan and Syria, was to begin postwar reconstruction. I had not planned or prepared for governing, nor had I received any guidance or assistance in how to do so. But then, nothing in war is expected.

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