If you do politics, and you live in Michigan, you get accustomed to the signs of a presidential motorcade. You know that when you're driving down a busy road, and there are police cars in driveways all along the side of the road, and some motorcycle cops zipping around, that the road is about to be closed down, and the Secret Service will be driving through with the "secure unit," the car with the principle (usually the President or the Vice-President) and the one in front and behind will be driving through with a bunch of media, some other cars hauling notables and apparatchiks, some state police, and an ambulance. You know this because Michigan is always a target state, and after a while, especially in the Detroit area, you start to get irritated at the disruptions to traffic several times a week in September and October.
So, yesterday, when I drove through the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, one-time home of Henry Ford, longtime home of Ford Motor Company, and the epicenter to the largest population of Middle Eastern Arabs outside the Middle East, my first thought was that I missed any news of either the President or George W. Bush coming into town, because as I pulled up to the intersection of Ford Road and Outer Drive, the police blocked the road, and a motorcade drove past. But then I remembered, from my morning snooze through the alarm, that it was a different head of state in town. The Arab-Americans of Dearborn, overwhelmingly against the war in Iraq, were being visited by Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.
Dearborn struck me as a possibly controversial choice for Jaafari to visit, because Dearborn doesn't have a particularly large number of Iraqi natives. It has a fairly small population of Iraqi Shiites, mostly people who came to the US after the Gulf War. These people were generally supportive of the war, but even many of the most pro-war Arabs in Michigan turned against the war. But the much larger group of Iraqis, and politically and economically far more important in Michigan, are the Chaldeans, Roman Catholics whose native language is Aramaic, and who live mostly in the northern suburbs of Detroit. So I figured Jaafari's schedule had him slighting the Chaldeans by not going to the Chaldean center in West Bloomfield, and instead visiting the smaller but more pro-war Shiites.
That was until I drove through West Bloomfield this afternoon. There they were again, the police cars in driveways off Orchard Lake Road, the cops on motorcycles getting ready to shut down the road for Jaafari's motorcade, this time on the way to the gleaming, new Chaldean center. I figured it was good Arab-American politics to have Jaafari to hit both groups.
But as I thought some more, I wondered if it was good Iraqi politics to have the Prime Minister spend the better parts of two days in Michigan.
If you require damning evidence that Iraq is immeasurably screwed up, just look at the fact that on the most deadly day in Baghdad since the collapse of Saddam's army, with at least 160 dead and 570 injured by more than a dozen bombings coordinated by Al Qaeda, the Prime Minister wasn't sufficiently shocked to break away from his schedule and return home to Iraq. Yesterday he "fretted" about the insurgency. But today, despite the gruesome carnage in Baghdad, his fretting wasn't enough to dissuade him from continuing with his speechifying.
Because, it would seem, he (and his American handlers) think one of his most important roles is a cheerleader for how freedom is on the march. So he's still in Michigan, speechifying. When a few dozen people were killed in London, Tony Blair immediately took leave of most of the world's most powerful national leaders to attend to his country's national crisis. But today, when hundreds were killed in what was one of Al Qaeda's deadliest one day tolls since 9-11, Ibrahim al Jaafari wasn't in Iraq providing leadership or rallying the resources of the government he leads to address the terrorist disaster and strike out against Al Queda. Instead he was, like his paymaster in the U.S., gallivanting around the American Heartland on a day in which Al Qaeda struck in the heart of his country's biggest, most important city.