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13 June 2005

This is a letter from Major Ben Busch ([EMAIL PROTECTED]), son of the
novelist Fred Busch.

Dear All,

   A long letter for a long month. You just never know how much you will
write when you sit down to explain your situation. The ceramic plates
in our body armor keep sweat from the relief of moving air. My uniform
feels as though it may dissolve beneath them after long patrols. So do
I. As we move through the day, we realize that we are almost alone
outside in the heat. The people of this land have long abandoned the
afternoons to the sun and only foreign transients walk, overburdened
and in undefined defiance, through the streets and alleys. Our eyes
burn and narrow against the light. It seems to know us. It is directed
towards us from every surface and we are somewhat certain that it has
an intelligence. Too malevolent to be as indifferent as we should
suppose. It portions time. If the heat does not humble us, time will.
In other news, the news on reporters may have been ill-reported. TIME
Magazine just sent a journalist to Ramadi for two days and Ollie North
stopped by. Rumors.

   Every mission out into this city requires a conscious escape from the
resignation that there is nothing here to win and every occasion to
fail. That the sullen stare on faces passed on each street carries an
inconsolable blame for something that we can, somehow, not repair. It
lingers, gathering elements of defeat and revolution and is meant for
us only because we are here. I imagine that there must develop a
fatigue and a resent in a people occupied by another that has almost
nothing to do with the manner of their occupation. To be a subject has
to involve being subjected. We are trying to empower their own police
to walk post instead of Marines but the graft has not yet taken and is
hampered further by the graft. There is something culturally childish
in their understanding of basic Western governance and management that
will require immeasurable education and probably several generations to
overcome if they find it of any interest. That education is, of course,
a choice that they have to make on their own. They are not our people.
Our understanding of their tribal governance and its relationship to
formal civic management is equally naive and charges our frustration.
The problem now is that their every inconvenience has become our
responsibility. They act as if they can not comprehend our sacrifices
and are thus ungrateful for them. The reality is that they can not,
culturally, comprehend our altruism or believe our stated intentions.
Even though it is not their desire to offend, we are insulted and it
bleeds us of affection and tolerance. Liberation will compete with
invasion as our legacy but locally we are ideologically irrelevant. Our
presence is, mostly, only of interest to those who seek to benefit from
our contracts and donations. It is a region of people making alliances,
business deals, friendships and enemies one day at a time without a
real concept of sustainable services, resources, or trust. No future.
Just daily survival as they know it. Family and tribe. Our
contributions may be counted long after we have withdrawn but they will
not recount the names of the fallen. So many now. Each wound will be
absorbed into the quiet sadness that we allow to pass beneath us as a
people and a country. Our loss will have never even occurred to most
people here. Missing sons and husbands and broken families. The Iraqis
have had considerable casualties too but they are accorded a different
estimation. A death can be forgiven for a $2,500 consolation payment
here. Every damage has a monetary equivalent including emotions and
lives. I witnessed a consolation payment to a family during the initial
invasion and found the experience surreal, unfathomably arbitrary, and
businesslike. A conversation of calculated glances. Their detachment
from sorrow and vengeance was visibly settled when currency was
presented. The Middle East. Impossible to imagine if you haven't been
in the business of negotiating apology and forgiveness to conclusion in
a civilian battlefield. Of assigning a reasonable and final value to
the dead.

   We still receive kind reception from young children because they are
children and excited by excitement. They believe that "Mister, give
me." is a complete sentence and that, by itself, gives example of a
poor future of entitlement and dependency. Their parents just use
longer sentences. People have often asked me if I like the Iraqi people
given the incredible difficulties in dealing with them in order to
improve their situation. Many troops are convinced to despise them
after a deployment here. I must say only that I understand them.
Understanding is enough to accept fate here. I know what will frustrate
my sensibilities before the moment arrives and I make the intellectual
and emotional allowances in advance. I understand the Iraqis and so I
do not hate them for being themselves. I account for cultural
predispositions and inclinations. I never thought that they were
American when I arrived so I have not been horrified by the discovery
that they are, in fact, not. There is not one democracy in the Middle
East. There has never been one. What did we expect? We still have to
hope for progress and small victories. Possibilities.

   So what news about the new government you may ask. Well the Provisional
Military Governor was replaced by the Transitional Governor who
resigned under threat and was replaced with another Transitional
Governor. He was then replaced by the Emergency Appointed Governor who
was just replaced by the selected Governor chosen by the elected
Provincial Council. He never made a speech or publicized his views,
never debated the other candidates and was not present during the
selection, never making an acceptance speech. He was promptly kidnapped
by a rival tribe while his tribe fought another tribe on the Syrian
border. The recently displaced Emergency Appointed Governor returned in
hopes of regaining the position however, the Deputy Governor is now
serving as the Acting Governor while the actual Selected Governor is in
captivity. But there was an election so democracy is in full bloom I am
to understand. We are now trying to force the power of decision onto
the elected Provincial Council and the city officials. It is a
difficult thing to keep myself inactive in matters of governance here.
The instinct to impose order and command the requisite discipline in
the Iraqi leadership must be quelled in order to allow sovereign
stewardship to develop at its native pace and in a native form. I fight
myself to remain insignificant in the process. I haven't the nature for
passive observation. I share the American fascination with action and
it has consistently betrayed us in our foreign policy. Our continued
involvement will continue the state of dependency and our eventual
departure will leave nothing but cosmetic structure here. Iraq will
return to what it is. Our common sense is not common to this people and
that understanding must be given proper respect. I do my best but I
twitch with an urge for the folly of intrusion. We are currently
Grafting a lesson in administration using funding to lure
responsibility in the new elected Provincial Council. The hope is that
they will learn to work together to prioritize projects within the
limitations of a budget without giving them the actual money. We will
still control the purse and own oversight of the contractors to
minimize direct political profiteering but the decisions that are made
will come entirely from the council. We have, after two years of
allowing waste, fraud and abuse to define our financial support to
Iraqi leaders and American and Kuwaiti businesses, learned this much.
Last week I negotiated the lowest of three project bids from $110,000
down to $7,400 in 15 minutes. The same amount of work will be done.
Frustrating? Well, yes but I blame us as much as I do them. The project
would probably have been approved at its bid cost less than a year ago
and would still be approved in other units now. You have to know Iraq
to pull punk cards on an Iraqi. Independent Iraqi planning will be a
first and will begin to transfer substantial authority to Iraqi civic
leaders. They have had no consistency in policy, direction or
representation since our invasion and have not yet been required to
actually accomplish anything. Yes, Lawrence of Arabia warned us of this

   "My head was working full speed in these minutes, on our joint behalf,
to prevent the fatal first steps by which the unimaginative..., with
the best will in the world, usually deprived the acquiescent native of
the discipline of responsibility, and created a situation which called
for years of agitation and successive reforms and riotings to mend.

   We are, of course, beyond the fatal first steps and have paid dearly
for them. Their task now is to produce a national constitution so that
they can have another national election. I am doubtful that much of it
will be ideas of their own about government and its relationship to
freedoms. Democratic idealism laying latent in the Iraqi people for
years finally defined in law. No, my guess is that it will sound unlike
an Iraqi voice when it is read aloud. We are trying. Some of them are
trying too.

   One of the infantry companies in the battalion that my team supports
discovered a little girl under blankets in a home during a search. She
had second and third degree burns over forty percent of her body and
had been lying there on the floor for 25 days. Her mother had been
cleaning her as she could but the girl was not healing and infection
would likely kill her. She had set her dress on fire while lighting
incense. She was three years old and doomed. The Company Commander
brought the story to me and I set to scheme a solution for her care. I
worked an agreement with a Doctor in a hospital for a private room and
examination by a burn specialist. Poor families receive symbolic
healthcare here, much like in America, but anyone can get decent
treatment for a fee. Medical care in Iraq is said to be free but this
is a criminal state and all services are openly or secretly related to
cash. The family could not afford to have "Hope" treated for her burns
for the six weeks that it would require. Favors were exchanged, as is
necessary in this place, and then I went to her home to explain the
slight of hand to her family. The world beyond her mother, and a dark
room of drawn curtains, had given up on her. She lay silently exposed
and studying each of us in detail with dark eyes, her suffering
interrupted by the distraction of our gathering around her. We had a
doctor of our own who prepared her for transportation to the hospital
and she cried out as she was wrapped in protective gauze. Piercing the
cry of a child in pain. Filled with helplessness and giving sound to
the unfair. I thought, of course, of my daughter. The sound was
intolerable by association with fatherhood. An ambulance would arrive
for her in the morning of the next day. We would be invisible in the
process. Insurgents would punish the family and staff for our
sponsorship so we controlled the events through the thin assurances of
a small collection of professionals. She is called "Hope" between
Marines involved but I know her name. I visit her once a week under
cover of inspections, supply deliveries and meetings with hospital
staff. She will recover. She smiles when we come now. She has a chance
to be a woman. I wonder if I have done her any favors. She is young
enough to forget all of us when we go but there are strange pieces of
memory that rise in us later. Maybe a pleasant edge of our presence
will come back to her. What better thing could we hope to leave here..
.and in this life. So there are moments when this work bears some
reward. One girl saved is a good start. I dare not imagine what she
must now survive by her survival.

   I can say that we have done some good this month. We delivered $500,000
worth of medical supplies to the Maternity and Children's Hospital and
have provided for the installation of 23 new electric transformers to
make power distribution more equitable throughout the city. The fliers
included with this letter were produced to get the word out on those
actions. I have submitted for the purchase of 20 new infant incubators
for the hospital as well. They deliver an average of 20 newborns a day
there. I also have contractors cleaning the streets that the Department
of Municipalities will not. Ramadi's trash collectors are paid by the
central government but can not be "encouraged" to work. A typical
problem here. If men are already on the books, then they will not do
the jobs that they are paid for unless they are paid an additional
salary by another agent to do the job that they should already be
doing. Iraqis do not like to work at all. Without the benefit of state
sponsored fear, most city managers can not enforce employee
participation. I spend much of my time criticizing their failure to
establish authority and fire bad employees but the answer is always the
same: "I can't. They know insurgents and they will have me killed." I
respond that if they tell me who the insurgent collaborators are, I
will have them removed by other means. They reply that if they turn
them in, then they will be noted as coalition collaborators.. .and will
be killed. If no one does anything, then no one will be killed.

   Nothing gets done.. .but someone will be killed anyway.

   And so the days go by here in Ramadi. Time that we won't get back
again. All of the tomorrows will be hot and we will roll out of the
Camp Hurricane Point gate into the city past sagging Hesco barriers
full of dirt and mingled rolls of concertina wire. The sound of radio
static from higher headquarters in one ear from the handset and the
crosstalk of the vehicle commanders in the other ear from a head set,
both pushed uncomfortably under my helmet. The sweat that I can't wipe
gathering on the inside of my ballistic glasses. Watching the roadsides
for bombs and the rooftops for snipers. The people regarding the
inconvenience of our convoy. The feeling that we have stayed too long
here but can not leave.


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