Searching for the silver lining

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Hesham A. Hassaballa’s Column

The war rages on, and U.S. and British forces are moving ever closer to Baghdad. In fact, U.S. soldiers have entered one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces near Baghdad International Airport. The Battle of Baghdad, the “decisive phase” of this war, is finally at hand.

It is hard to think of a positive outcome of this military conflict. The standing of the United States around the world has plummeted, no where more so than in the Arab and Muslim world. We have alienated long-time allies by abandoning the United Nations inspection process and going to war unilaterally. Our military action threatens to ignite a lethal Middle East powder keg, which would have negative consequences for the United States for decades to come. Even as we make stunning advances on the battlefield, the future looks bleak indeed.

I am confident, though, that good will come out of this war. This must be the case, for God would not allow something, even as evil as war, to pass without an eventual positive outcome. The first good thing that I know will come out of this war is the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. That fact is one of the few things that comfort me as I watch the deaths of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians on my television screen. I still wish we had not gone to war, but, now that we are at war, I am happy that the Butcher of Baghdad will finally be gone.

One good thing that I pray will come out of this war is the final removal of our troops from Saudi Arabia. The presence of our troops on Saudi soil has been constant fuel for the fire of religious fanatics. They always cite the presence of “infidels” on the Muslim holy lands as one justification for attacking Americans, even American Muslims. Therefore, why not simply transfer those troops to Iraq and help diminish the intensity of those fanatic flames?

It would be naive to think that, after the war is over, America will not leave a permanent troop presence in Iraq. Once the shooting stops, we should send the soldiers who fought the war home to their families and replace them with the soldiers currently based in Saudi Arabia. It is quite clear that the Saudis do not want us there anyway, and we would be right next door should they ever need American military assistance in the future.

The only potential problem I see is that perhaps Shia Muslim radicals might claim that “infidels” are on their holy lands, as the Shia holy cities of Najaf and Karbala are in Iraq. That remains to be seen. True, Muslim fanatics will not suddenly love the United States once the troops have left Saudi soil. Nevertheless, if we are going to have a major troop presence in the Middle East, I would rather have them in Iraq than Saudi Arabia.

Another good thing that I pray will result from this war is the emergence of “civilian-friendly” military action. It has been quite impressive to see, despite ferocious bombing and missile attacks, the street lights of Baghdad remain on night after night. Many parts of Baghdad have been left unscathed by the almost continuous air assault, in fact. I pray that this becomes American military precedent. U.S. military officials seem to be sincere in their constant stressing that every measure possible is being taken to avoid civilian casualties. It is wise military strategy. The more we do to avoid loss of civilian life, the more we will avoid creating more terrorists willing to strike back at America for destroying their home or accidentally killing their loved one.

Unfortunately, however, not every missile has hit its target, and dozens of civilians have been killed by U.S. bombs and missiles, both in Baghdad and elsewhere. In fact, just now, as I write this, it is reported that the city of Baghdad has been plunged into darkness for the first time in this war. Precision-guided ammunition technology must be improved even further. In addition, the criticism that the political pressure to minimize loss of innocent life and preserve civilian infrastructure has hampered the conduct of this war is laughable if not ridiculous. This criticism must be rebuffed vehemently.

I truly wish we had not gone to war. Too many American and Iraqi lives are being lost, and to me, one life lost is one life too many. I pray America can find peaceful solutions to her future problems, so our military will not have to occupy another foreign country. Nevertheless, we are at war, and burying my head in the sand will not make that reality go away. It is deathly important for me to search hard for the silver lining in the black cloud of this current war in Iraq. It is deathly important to try to remain optimistic, to search for the good outcomes that may result. It is the only way I can stop myself from drowning in despair.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and columnist for Beliefnet.com and Media Monitors Network (MMN)He is author of “Why I Love the Ten Commandments,” published in the book “Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith” (Rodale Press).

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