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Gourley on Iraq: It ate a big part of my life, but I just don’t care about it anymore

From a comment the other day. I think this is actually a healthy attitude, one I wish I could emulate more: I don’t care. And it’s not that I just don’t care. It’s that I deliberately and genuinely don’t care. I don’t know exactly when, but it occurred to me in that moment that, at ...

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From a comment the other day. I think this is actually a healthy attitude, one I wish I could emulate more:

I don’t care. And it’s not that I just don’t care. It’s that I deliberately and genuinely don’t care. I don’t know exactly when, but it occurred to me in that moment that, at some point along the line, I made the considered decision to stop caring about Iraq, its people, and their collective fate. If the headline had been "Iraq disappears into gigantic middle eastern sinkhole," I might have read the rest. But it would only have been out of curiosity of what geological phenomenon caused it. 

This is odd to me, because I care about a lot of things. I care about the debt. I care about the state of our armed forces. I care about our veterans. I care about the surveillance debates. Heck, when the Jehovah’s witnesses showed up at my door this morning I gave them 15 minutes of my time because they were at least making an effort at improving the world, and I felt that as a human being I owed them at least a demonstration of respect for that. I read the news, I write my Congressman, I take part in charity, I write books and articles. I care about lots of things. 

But not Iraq.

Spent two years there. Lost friends there. Lit fire to my first marriage there. Temporarily loaned it my sanity. If my life was a pie chart, Iraq would still represent a pretty huge chunk. And I do not care about that place. I tried to consider today that my indifference may contribute to future problems there, the consequences of which range from regional instability and the deaths of innocents to a full-blown Iranian proxy with as much enmity for the U.S. as Bin Laden’s Afghanistan. And I still couldn’t muster any concern.

I don’t know if the relationship at this point is framed more by all that I did give to it, the utter lack of return gained on the investment, or the political fool’s errand underlying the whole thing. I care about Afghanistan, though I never went. Maybe I’ll care less about that when we’re finally out of there. I care more about Egypt, too. Maybe that’s what really puts it into relief. I perceive that, at least in Egypt, the masses are willing to unify and work and fight to secure for themselves the basic liberties and rights they want. The reality isn’t without its impurities, I know, but I feel like the Egyptians collectively work harder than the Iraqis. I respect the Egyptians. By and large, I never felt anything but pity for the Iraqis. And honestly, I think ten years is long enough to pity anyone. I don’t wish them ill, but if ill is visited upon them and they do nothing about it, then I won’t bother myself with it. I certainly won’t spend pages and pages pondering what America can do to prop them up.

For guys like Petraeus, they can’t put it down because their careers and legacies are too intertwined. The state of Iraq’s government in twenty years will be the post-script to whatever biographies anyone else writes about him. So, for him, he is still very much at risk in that country, and has much at stake to lose. Maybe that connection is why I regarded his essay the same way I did this news. I made note of it, but I didn’t bother to read it. He’s just the sound to accompany the country’s fury. 

I know it’s the duty of people like Tom to report on these events, and I don’t get angry with them for doing it. But what I simply cannot relate to is any sense in the reporting that there is something genuinely at stake. The foreboding that Tiny Tim’s chair will soon be empty if events go unchanged falls flat with me. It all sounds like they’re saying "this is my chair that’s about to go empty," and all I can think is that I have a whole dining room set, so why should I wring my hands about theirs? 

I wonder how many other people feel the same way. I talk to other vets a lot. They have stuff they care about: government reform, militarized law enforcement, post-war military readiness. But now that I think about it, they don’t talk about Iraq. Maybe they don’t care, either. 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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