Hakim is a remarkably articulate man, with the spark of curiosity in his eyes and a presence that we in the United States would call "star quality." Whoever had the good sense to invite him here -- where he met with officials at the State Department, Pentagon and National Security Council -- should get a pay raise.
Hakim had a clear message during his visit, and it's one worth mulling carefully as Americans ponder the new Iraqi constitution and the bitter Shiite-Sunni tensions that have surrounded its drafting. If I could sum up his theme in one sentence, it is that the United States should continue to bet on democracy in Iraq -- which of necessity means relying on Iraq's Shiite majority and the mullahs who speak for it. In essence, he was calling for a strategic alliance between Najaf and Washington.
I told Hakim through an interpreter that many Americans were close to despair about Iraq. We see continuing violence and few signs that Iraq's security forces will be strong enough to maintain order once American troops leave. Here's how Hakim responded: "The truth is, this is a grand plan, and any time you are engaged in a grand plan, you will face difficulties. But we will overcome them. We are now in the final quarter of these difficulties." I'm not sure I agree with him that the troubles are nearly over, but I must say that I was moved by his answer.
Hakim told me he had visited the Lincoln Memorial, and I asked what he had thought as he looked up at the face of the man who kept America together during its own brutally violent civil war. He said the American experience was a lesson for Iraqis "in pooling people of various ethnic backgrounds into one law and order." He added that he hoped future generations of Iraqis would look at their current leaders with the same gratitude that Americans feel when they regard Lincoln.
That first sentence sums it up-- it's the classic friendly racism line about minorities. "What an articulate negro/Mexican/whatever"-- but you've got to love the flag-waving shamelessness of the Lincoln reference. It's like 'flag porn.' And does he have any suggestions aside from the White House-approved "stay the course?" Nope.