I have endured a fair amount of good natured ridicule for my assertion that Angelina Jolie has a good head on her shoulders. I acknowledge that her other body parts are generally more remarkable, but I have always been impressed that she stands apart from the typical Hollywood liberal. For one thing she does her homework and appeals to common sense and intelligence, even when an emotional appeoal would seem perfectly natural. For another, she takes her various charitable and humanitarian efforts seriously and actually works to find solutions rather than wave her hands at the problems and stand by to accept the accolades.
Case in point: this rather old article in the Washington Post:
The request is familiar to American ears: "Bring them home."
But in Iraq, where I've just met with American and Iraqi leaders, the phrase carries a different meaning. It does not refer to the departure of U.S. troops, but to the return of the millions of innocent Iraqis who have been driven out of their homes and, in many cases, out of the country.
The Iraqi families I've met on my trips to the region are proud and resilient. They don't want anything from us other than the chance to return to their homes -- or, where those homes have been bombed to the ground or occupied by squatters, to build new ones and get back to their lives. One thing is certain: It will be quite a while before Iraq is ready to absorb more than 4 million refugees and displaced people. But it is not too early to start working on solutions. And last week, there were signs of progress.
In Baghdad, I spoke with Army Gen. David Petraeus about UNHCR's need for security information and protection for its staff as they re-enter Iraq, and I am pleased that he has offered that support. General Petraeus also told me he would support new efforts to address the humanitarian crisis "to the maximum extent possible" -- which leaves me hopeful that more progress can be made.
UNHCR is certainly committed to that. Last week while in Iraq, High Commissioner Antonio Guterres pledged to increase UNHCR's presence there and to work closely with the Iraqi government, both in assessing the conditions required for return and in providing humanitarian relief.
During my trip I also met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has announced the creation of a new committee to oversee issues related to internally displaced people, and a pledge of $40 million to support the effort.
As for the question of whether the surge is working, I can only state what I witnessed: U.N. staff and those of non-governmental organizations seem to feel they have the right set of circumstances to attempt to scale up their programs. And when I asked the troops if they wanted to go home as soon as possible, they said that they miss home but feel invested in Iraq. They have lost many friends and want to be a part of the humanitarian progress they now feel is possible.
It seems to me that now is the moment to address the humanitarian side of this situation. Without the right support, we could miss an opportunity to do some of the good we always stated we intended to do.
I think she is a little naive in the assumption that signs of UN involvement are necessarily signs of progress. The UN is frequently part of the problem in any international crisis and has more than once managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. But Jolie's general point is solid: if humanitarian organizations are now begining to show interest in returning to Iraq, that is testament to the growing stability and order which is the first prerequisite of a return to civilization. I also like the fact that she acknowledges the sincerity of the early hawkish arguments that deposing Saddam and his jihadist allies would be a long-term gain for the Iraqis themselves and is holding us accountable to follow through on those promises.
I still don't think she is the right physical type to play Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged, but I continue to be impressed with her intellectual seriousness.