Actor Sean Penn was widely criticized for his trip to Baghdad in December 2002. A year later, he’s returned to Baghdad. What’s surprising about this piece is that it doesn’t read like an anti-war polemic. If anything it reads like someone who is legitimately inquisitive about the situation in Baghdad and what the Iraqi people are thinking:
For Iraqis, there was no pro-war or anti-war movement last spring when the United States invaded their country. That, in their view, was a predominantly Western debate. They’re used to war; they’re used to gunshots. What’s new is this tiny seed and taste of freedom. It is a compelling experience to have been in Baghdad just one year ago, where not a single Iraqi expressed to me opinions outside Baathist party lines, and just one year later, when so many express their opinions and so many opinions compete for attention. Where the debate is similar to that in the United States is over the way in which the business of war will administer the opportunity for peace and freedom, and the reasonable expectation of Iraqi self-rule.
There’s some liberal boilerplate about globalization, but there’s also a lot that is open, honest, and interesting. I still think Penn was wrong to travel to Iraq during the tyrannical reign of Saddam Hussein, however, this piece is far more nuanced than one would expect. Penn finds some fault with the handling of post-war Iraq, but his arguments don’t resort to the kind of hysteria that seems to be the hallmark of the anti-war set these days.