Don Williams
Photo by Justin Williams

Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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Our Ignorance Is Killing Us
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   01/26/2007)

OK, what would YOU do about the Middle East?

That's a question I try to avoid because to answer it's immodest. So, when pressed, I acknowledge up front that I dwell in ignorance, and so do you. Otherwise, answer me this: Why are we spending over $1 billion to build an embassy complex in Baghdad rather than, say, $10 million or $100 million? I don't know the answer and neither do you.

That's ignorance, my friend.

And as the late great prophet Carl Sagan once said, if we're going to survive as a species we'll have to get lots smarter lots faster. From my perch in lofty Tennessee, it appears Washington went the opposite direction several years ago, and that got lots of folks killed, maimed and displaced—millions in Iraq alone since the Shock & Awe of March, 2003.

The sad yet happy news is that answers were and are plentiful. Scholars, authors, columnists, businessmen, diplomats, scientists, soldiers, spies, clerics, artists, ex-presidents and ordinary citizens predicted the current mess in Iraq years back. It's time we listened. So, with the goal of being much smarter by say, Tuesday, I'd ask lots of questions to people who got it right, starting yesterday. Specifically I'd ask…

* Is President Bush's “Surge”—rushing 22,000 more troops to Iraq—merely a smokescreen to keep our focus off air and missile strikes he's already planned for Iran in coming weeks?

* Is there anything to media reports that Bush/Cheney intend to bomb Iranian nuclear installations as early as April, so Tony Blair can lend political support before leaving office?

* Is the Washington Post right in estimating that Iran is ten years away from building a nuke?

* How's the freedom and democracy Reform Movement in Iran doing?

* Have our policies hindered this movement?

* Did Bush policies inadvertently bring about the 2005 runoff election of Iran's radical president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—an election he won by a narrow plurality?

* What will be the effect on Afghanistan of pulling soldiers out for use in Iraq or Iran at a time when the Taliban is rebuilding and heroin production is at an all-time high?

* Why do we need that $1 billion-plus embassy in Baghdad and those four huge military bases, capable of heavy air traffic, we're building in Iraq? Are we planning to stay permanently?

* Was Nancy Pelosi correct to assert last week that we're coercing Iraq into giving Western oil companies 75 percent of that country's profits?

* Is our Middle East policy based on oil? Burning oil is destructive, but indispensable for now. Someone has to keep those oil fields secure.

* Are we building a community of nations—not just a patchwork coalition of the willing—to make this happen in such a way that won't lead to disastrous wars?

* What really happened at Tora Bora in late 2001? Did scores of al-Qaeda and Taliban fly, drive and run away to the mountains of Pakistan, with our aid, where bin Laden lives to this day?

* Did we allow a safe haven for al-Qaeda in Pakistan, a country bristling with nuclear technology, while blowing the lid off non-nuclear Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11?

* Was that George Bush's idea? Dick Cheney's? Was it based on ideas from a small but rich and influential cabal of so-called Neocons in Washington? How did this disaster happen?

* Is our own government's National Intelligence Estimate correct, that the War in Iraq serves as a recruiting tool for al-Qaida and other terrorist outfits around the world?

* Was our decision to invade Iraq based largely on lies from a tortured man named Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi? Whose idea was it to make the use of such torture part of US policy?

* How is the morale of our soldiers? Why didn't we pin medals on their chests and bring them home after capturing Saddam Hussein?

* Who is doing most of the killing in Iraq? Is it the Sunnis or is it Shiite militias beholden to the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in league with the al-Maliki government? Are they working in league to murder Sunnis, using the new Iraqi army we've trained and protected?

* If so, does that make us a party to genocide against the Sunnis?

* Can we fix this mess starting yesterday?

More later.