There is a bar in the "Cinco de Mayo," which passes for a Mexican restaurant in the Intercontinental Hotel here in the Jordanian capital. It provides a fascinating look into what the war in neighboring Iraq has wrought in this little kingdom . The food is more Arab than Mexican, the margaritas suck, and aside from the occasional local, usually a driver or fixer, the vast majority of patrons are hard, tough, white guys between 35 and 50 with hair closely cropped or shaven completely. If you didn't know better you could mistake this crowd for
neo-Nazis or simmering British soccer fans.
They are mostly private security contractors or truck drivers or construction trades workers coming or going from the war-torn country next door. Here, on the edge of the Iraqi cliff they gather for one last drink before taking the plunge into war or they chill, waiting for the flight home to Europe or the United States. The mood at the bar ranges from surly to gallows humor, with lots of stories of close calls or the money they've made during their three months on, one month off rotation.
Like Blackwater or the tens of thousands of other mercenary warriors whose crucial role only surfaces when something bad happens like the recent massacre of Iraqi civilians, these guys are among the few to benefit from the war. Mostly former military, they are paid multiples of what our GI's are making, and hope the chaos lasts forever since they are in the chaos business.
No one else around here is happy with the Iraq war and most certainly not the Jordanian people who long for the era of Saddam Hussein. Back in the days immediately before the 2003 war the dictator made sure to curry the support of the people of this mostly dirt poor place with a steady infusion of free oil. I remember a trip here during the build-up to the invasion when every road in from Iraq was crowded with tanker trucks as far as the eye could see, all bearing the gift of black gold. Now gas is four bucks a gallon, the government has just announced that with oil at a hundred dollars a barrel it may double, and everybody is pissed.
What is also noteworthy is how little the locals care about the Palestinian/Israeli peace conference currently being staged by President Bush in Annapolis. The prevailing attitude is that it is an ill-prepared photo op that will result in some handshakes and headlines that yield no change in the situation in the Occupied Territories, which border Jordan on the opposite side from Iraq. With neighbors like these it's a wonder anybody around here isn't terminally pessimistic.
Tomorrow morning we'll be back on that short flight from Amman into Baghdad. Despite the courage and recent successes of our GI's, the danger of anti-aircraft fire still mandates an airport approach that is hair-raising after all these years. You fly over the airport at about ten thousand feet then tightly spiral down, never straying from the secure boundaries of the field.
It is a lot more fun on the way out, when despite the aerial maneuvering you are at least comforted by the fact that you survived another trip over the edge.