Arts & Culture

The Ira Glass Infatuation Post/This American Life Roundup: “Iraq Afer US”

“Operation Iraqi Freedom is over,” begins’s summary of this week’s episode, Iraq After US (U.S.? us?) marking the wandering of a radio Jew into unknown terrain. Ira, Nancy, Larry and company dissect what the hell just happened on the other … Read More

By / October 20, 2010

“Operation Iraqi Freedom is over,” begins’s summary of this week’s episode, Iraq After US (U.S.? us?) marking the wandering of a radio Jew into unknown terrain. Ira, Nancy, Larry and company dissect what the hell just happened on the other end of the line. In the first fresh episode in a while, they really gave it to us good.

Act 1: And who has more blemishes on his record than a fighter?

More money, checkpoints, Shi’as (it turns out), “it really changed your whole sense of geography in the city.” There is even a dialogue between Ira and Larry Kaplow in which Suni and Shi’a are compared to Catholics and Protestants, irrespectively.

A Suni and a Shi’a walk into a bar, basically, after which Nancy Updike speaks to “Abu Abed” (strange place for irony).

In a nutshell and in a very astute characterization of the combat, Ms. U posits:

Abu Abed has gone from being a central character in U.S. strategy to an exile sleeping on a friend’s floor. And those are only two of the roles he’s played in the Iraq war. At every turn in the war, every change in U.S. tactics or stategy, Abu Abed has been there either benefitting or getting pounded. He’s a living catalogue of the seven years of decisions, of successes and failures that have made up this war.

Drawing a timeline from the honorable resistance that was the early insurgency in 2006, followed by serious worry by inhabitants when al Qaida “overplayed their cards,” the act zooms in on the point where kinetic US insurgency ensued.

Most interesting is an alternate perspective Nancy delves into. In interviewing a US frontman, he provides a valuable lesson on leaders that could translate to gubernatorial races, In considering Abu Abed for a new position as chief of an Iraqi police force, Updike asks, “This is somebody you’d been working with for months, leading this group, trusting him, the bravest man you’d ever met. Why not him?” To which the American responds, “It goes back to what I think he was good at. I think he was a great fighter, very charismatic, right guy to go fight al Qaida. I did not think he was the right guy in the right temperament to lead a police force of a community like that.” “I think there was a transition that needed to happen.” After said transition, other Sons of Iraq have since been murdered and their families kidnapped. The realistic view that you can count on from TAL sets in: reconciliation may not be a thing of the future—it may be possible for the Shi’a majority to rule the country without ever reconciling with Sunis. “According to an American officer who served in Afghanistan, every time we want local fighters to help us, they’re going to ask us: how will we end up?”

Act 2: I am not a dog, I am a human being. At the newly established mayor’s office in Almeria, Nancy and Larry delve into the not-so-perfect brand-spankin-new democracy. “Government in Iraq has basically meant somebody at the top imposing order and control on everyone below,” and now that decentralization has been imposed they have, surprisingly, run into some problems. Iraqi Mayor of Almeria newly dabbling in democracy as compared to Chicago’s Daley Jr. whose family has dynasties of experience:

IM: The mayor dressed more for a techno club than a mayor’s office.

RMD: I have a feeling a striped Armani knockoff in deep gray would complement the characteristically belligerent red hue he takes on whenever questioned about incongruencies in policy and how things actually go down in his fair city.

IM: The army closed off highways into the city without consulting with the provincial council, making for too many cooks in the kitchen and an unserved public.

RMD: Meig’s Field. After a decade of fighting with the federal government over the grounds used for aircraft travel since the 1940s and provided hundreds of jobs and millions in revenue to the city, Daley overrode any form of normal human behavior and ordered city construction to bulldoze giant X’s into the airstrip…in the middle of the night. Ghetto.

IM: When questioned by Ms. Updike, Mr. Mayor assented to giving housing to political leaders’ families first, interviewers explaining that “in Iraq family comes first because family might be the only thing you have to fall back on…all the other institutions are so fragile.”

RMD: Relying on the strength of his dad’s political machine, Daley took power soon after pops ran the city. And like his dad, they both would refer to the town as “MY city.” Another instance where Focus on the Family isn’t necessarily for the greater good. IM: Despite being a member of the provincial council, “he’s perfected the political art of being outraged, like he is some man on the street,” something that even made the Iraqi translatrix laugh. “I dont want to talk about ethics and say that i am a perfect man,” said the mayor.

RMD: Despite being elected as the official who deals with the bullshit we don’t want to deal with, he often tries the common man card, exasperated and yelling especially when dealing with potholes: the city gets hot and cold, you’re going to have potholes (complemented by Irish-Catholic redface).

IM: “My allies and I refuse to meet the other members of the council.”

RMD: “It’s just a group of people, yuppies and yippies and hoppies or whatever they call them, I don’t know. Who are they? Are they worried about the moon coming out or something? The sun is changing, and I don’t know. This is unbelievable.” Last time Daley quit sharing with taxpayers and city council, this happened.

Of the state of Iraqi mayorship in Almeria, Larry says, “This is politics today,” as if it’s comparable to the kind of thing that gets better with age. Act 3: Relentless Low-Level Fear “Iraqis haven’t developed some special mideast super immunity to violence just because they’ve seen a lot of it,” conveys Nancy. A dog, a tissue, an ant. To feel like an object in the face of a dominant force might be hot with a safeword, but when there’s no empowerment in a system allegiant to itself, turmoil ensues.

In the words of Daley Senior, “The police are not here to create disorder. They are here to preserve disorder.”