Aesthetic of Empire

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New at Reason: Americans are not particularly interested in Iraqis. Michael Young wonders if that might be a good thing.

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  1. He makes a good point about dovetailing the narratives of two cultures. And it is certainly a monumental task, given the distance and the ignorance. I think many people are confused about who the guerellas in Iraq are, and what the Iraquis have to do with the war or terrorism in Iraq — whatever you want to call it. If US citizens get the sense that the people of Iraq want a theocracy, which many are being coerced into, than the gap will remain ever wide.

  2. It took two years for US deaths to reach 324 in Vietnam. It passed that figure in seven months in Iraq.

    http://argument.independent.co.uk/commentators/story.jsp?story=463172

    Drudge is also reporting over 9000 injuries, including 5000 mystery neurological afflictions.

    http://www.drudgereport.com/flash1.htm

    Al Qaeda spokesman predicts huge and sudden 100,000 American deaths.

    http://www.worldtribune.com/worldtribune/breaking_2.html

    Vietnam George and the Neo-conned Congress leads us onwards to victory.

  3. Well I’ve heard a lot of Bible prophecies about Iraq, and in form the example cited here isn’t too far off from those. Still Bible code interpretation is on the fringe of Christian fundamentalism, out there with polygyamy and such.

  4. So Michael Young wants to get into myth-making; fine. Just as long as he doesn’t think it comports with reality.

  5. BTW, Job is buried in Oman; and Iraq plays a signficant role in the Bible. “Eden” was supposedly there; that’s where the Tower of Babel was built by Nimrod; Abraham is from there; the events of the Book of Esther take place there; and of course the Bible also mentions the various states there – like the Babylonian Empire.

  6. I’m sorry, but this article is absolute horseshit. We have to integrate our narratives with the Iraqis? Jesus Christ.

    Young writes: “What Wolfowitz sought to do was take a specifically Iraqi narrative and give it meaning in an American milieu, arguing that moral considerations had shaped his policies. Yet the fact that a student could sympathize in the abstract with Iraqi victims of Wolfowitz’s ‘deplorable’ war, while also ignoring the very real, longstanding and brutal repression wrought by Saddam Hussein and his acolytes against millions of innocents, shows what an uphill struggle the Bush administration has to convince Americans that Iraq has personal meaning for them.”

    One undereducated student now represents Americans’ uncaring attitude toward the Iraqis? Give me a fucking break. This is not to mention that, oh yeah, while Hussein was killing all those Marsh Arabs he had the support and backing of the U.S. government.

    And, yes, Iraq has personal meaning already for many Americans — because their sons and daughters are being killed over there every day for an unnecessary war and a seemingly unachievable peace.

    Young has the nerve to somehow imply that the massive failure of Dubya & Co.’s Iraq war is just a result of poor PR. Yet it was their decision to fight an unnecessary war. It was their decision to delay the process of returning sovereignty to the Iraqi people, which was their near universal wish after the Saddam statue fell. It was their decision to allow the looting that set the stage for a period of violence and instability. It was their decision to ignore the expressed wishes of many, many Iraqis to set up elections and get out ASAP.

    So who’s ignoring the Iraqis? More importantly, who in the Bush Administration has the interest of America’s security fully integrated into his narrative? If anyone did, they’d have kept up the war on Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda alone.

    This kind of mental masturbation is far beneath the standards of Reason magazine or even Reason Online.

  7. Well, Iraq’s problem is that lacks any nation-wide figure with “legitimacy.” It lacks a George Washington, de Gaulle, Havel, etc.

    When France was being liberated, de Gaulle was able to rally France, and install an interim government – that would be impossible in Iraq today. The US never had to create someone like Bremer when it invaded France; de Gaulle’s Free French movement took care of those details – local elections, efforts to draft a new constitution, ramping up an army so as to invade Germany, get rail lines fixed, etc. – on its own for the most part.

    Who the hell is going to fill in this role; who the hell has nation-wide legitimacy? To be frank, I almost think it better to sever Iraq into constituent areas (the Kurds wouldn’t mind this perhaps) – it was never designed by the British when they carved it out to be an independent state anyway.

  8. That is certainly an interesting take on de Gaulle, to say the least. To say the most it is fantasy. De Gaulle was wholly dependent, first on the Churchill government and later on the Anglo-American alliance, for everything except the words he put in his own speeches. It suited Britain and America to pretend otherwise.

    The Iraqi situation is different on many levels, but one similarity is the dependence of those Iraqis who want a stable, humane, democratic government on American power. Assume the best case, that the occupation authorities do everything right — what chance is there that Iraqis will be able to keep the republic we give them? No one wants to consider this question in public for fear of being thought “culturally condescending” or worse, but we have to consider the likelihood that whatever democracy we are successful in setting up in Iraq will collapse within a couple of years after the American army leaves.

    Michael Young talks as if the key issue is how Americans think about Iraq. Not if the question is what that country’s future will be, it isn’t; the issue is instead how Iraqis think about Iraq. Most of them may want something close to what we want for their country, but they will not fight for it. The people who will fight want a brutal authoritarian government of one kind or another, a government like most other Arab countries have, aone that gives the people in power the right to give orders and enrich their families and tribes. Liberated France could fall back on the practices it had before the Nazi conquest, practices fully compatible not only with de Gaulle’s objectives but with Allied interests. Liberated Iraq has nothing comparable. If pessimism is justified about Iraq, this is why.

  9. More fundamentally, Iraq is not France in the sense that France had long been a nation in which its people identified themselves as French. Iraq, like most of the Middle East, is an area of tribal cultures that have had the Western notion of nation-states superimposed upon them in their brief post-colonial history.

  10. What they need is to introduce an Iraqi equivalent of a taco to Americans. No matter how anyone feels about Mexicans, they have to admit that (1) their women are real cute, or at least they are until they’ve had 3 kids; and (2) they did invent the taco, which has to be one the all time top 10 culinary achievements. These two things make it a little easier for me to just shake my head and hope for better times ahead when I read about coyotes turning our local freeways into shooting galleries. If it were Iraqis shooting up the roads I might be less charitably inclined, I suppose.

    Right now about all many of us can really say about Iraqis is they had one hell of a dictator there for a while, and that a lot of them would make good extras for a remake of ‘Ben Hur.’

    (Yeah, I know that’s simplistic, can’t I have a little fun on the weekend?)

  11. “That is certainly an interesting take on de Gaulle, to say the least. To say the most it is fantasy. De Gaulle was wholly dependent, first on the Churchill government and later on the Anglo-American alliance, for everything except the words he put in his own speeches. It suited Britain and America to pretend otherwise.”

    Post-invasion, de Gaulle set up the government in the liberated areas, not the US (the first such event was in Bayeaux, France). And nothing that you wrote undercuts this at all. In fact, what you wrote was besides the point.

    Now FDR did try to keep this from happening, but events on the ground, as well as the desires of Eisenhower to let the French take care of their own government via de Gaulle’s Free French organization, forced FDR’s hand. So to say that the UK and the US supplied the Free French government, along with its army, air force and navy, with supplies, etc. means very little.

    If I am mistaken, that is mistaken about the Free French setting up a new government in liberated areas, and that they were able to do this because de Gaulle was a figure that could be rallied around, then why was there never an occupation government by the US/UK as there was everywhere in the rest of parts Europe that the Western allies occupied? Answer me that one.

    In fact, if anything, what you are pointing to is de Gaulle’s relationship with Churchill and FDR prior to liberation, not the post-liberation relationship. And if FDR had is way, de Gaulle would have gone long before 1944; their relationship was stormy and contentious and they did not get along at all (though they never met prior to August 1944 as I recall). So to be frank, even your assertion that if not for FDR’s good graces, de Gaulle would have been gone is wrong – FDR tried to get rid of him, and it never happened.

  12. D.A. Ridgely,

    Doesn’t it appear that the most successful states in the middle east are the smaller, more ethnically (or at least religiously) uniform ones?

    Concerning France, prior to the 19th century, it was a country that was more riven seperate languages, legal systems, ethnicities, etc. than the Balkans are today; the French government over that century spent much of its time creating uniformity and a sense of nation to combat this diversity (it wasn’t a new project; French kings had been interested in doing this since the time of Clovis). I don’t think a similar policy would in Iraq.

  13. Zathras,

    Try some reading in the future:

    Simon Berthon, _Allies at War: The Bitter Rivalry Among Churchill, Roosevelt, and De Gaulle_

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0786709499/reasonmagazinea-20/

  14. If the fruit of mental masturbation can get seven paragraphs out of Kevin O?Reilly, I shudder at the cascades of prose he must produce in response to those articles he likes.

    O?Reilly is irate (?horsehshit? and ?fucking? finely gave that away), which evidently clouded his comprehension of the piece. He writes: ?Young has the nerve to somehow imply that the massive failure of Dubya & Co.?s Iraq war is just a result of poor PR.?

    Naturally, I said nothing of the sort, and how O?Reilly got a sense that I was talking about PR is beyond me. What I said was that if the US wants to succeed in Iraq, one of the things the Bush administration will have to do is ensure Americans feel Iraq is vital enough for them personally so that they will sanction US forces? staying there. That means recasting the debate in the US as one of defending liberal values and an open society in Iraq, despite (and I cede ground here) the abysmal managing of the postwar situation there, which, before anything else, must surely be improved upon.

    That?s how US administrations managed to keep up the public?s interest in the Cold War, despite the onerous cost. And while one can debate whether the US missed opportunities to reduce Cold War tensions at various times, I don?t believe the effort to ?contain? the USSR was fundamentally wrong. Quite the contrary.

    As for the Merovingian?s comment that I subscribe to myth making, I?m afraid he?s the one making things up. Who is talking about myths? If anything, I recall writing that the Jessica Lynch ?myth? had been responsible for airbrushing the Iraqis out! I happen to believe that if democracy in the Middle East is to succeed?and I admit that?s a big ?if??then Iraq is the key. Neither myths nor PR will make the US public realize this. What will is a realization that a liberal Middle East may mean, on the one hand, a region more on par with what Americans (and the democratic West) know, want to deal with and embrace in terms of values, and, on the other, less likelihood of another 9/11.

  15. Michael Young,

    Air-brushing in Iraqis is myth-making as well. Of course all nations are based on myth-making, so go for it.

    In other words, this is not Poland post-1980; there is no Solidarity! Aside from the Kurds, who cannot represent all of Iraq in the first place, there is no popular, unified movement for “liberation” or “liberalism” in Iraq as there was in Poland. Now if you want to create “heroes” of the liberation amongst the Iraqi people, that’s fine. But to me that smacks not of the Solidarity movement, but of the Soviets creating Polish communist “heroes” of the Soviet “liberation” of Poland, when none existed (in fact, prior to the Nazi invasion of the USSR, the Soviets had slaughtered what home-grown Communist movement and resistance there was in Poland).

    And when you talk about “recasting” debates and what some future Iraq “may mean” and the like, you are talking about myth-making. You are talking about selling a specific agenda of the future that you would like to see; and this to be frank is the sort fairy-tale that the Pentagon sold itself when it thought that a post-war Iraq would be relatively docile, and that Ahmed Chalabi would be their man.

  16. Kevin is right. Every day, Reason sounds more like my college professors. And yes, that’s bad thing.

    God, if I ever write a sentence that includes both “narrative” and “milieu,” just shoot me.

  17. “BTW, Job is buried in Oman; and Iraq plays a signficant role in the Bible. “Eden” was supposedly there; that’s where the Tower of Babel was built by Nimrod”–Marovingina

    What about Hotrod under the Sealtest Bigtop, afterward buried in Virginia?

    Is it a good or bad thing we and the media don’t elaborate on what goes down under a burqa or an ao dai?

    Is it news?

  18. “If I were living in Akkad/Sumeria/Babylonia/Assyria/Mesopotamia/Iraq, I would consider anyone who declared “That army is going to leave of its own devices” to be demonstrating remarkable shortsightedness. And when the foreign army left, I would probably believe the guy with the AK yelling “We drove the infidels out” before the guy in the suit saying over his shoulder “We planned this all along.””

    That could well be the case, but it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to interpret the situation that way. The occupying army has always said it was going to leave, for one. The characterization of the guy to chopped the head of your local tyrant as an infidel probably makes the case that Islam is something that can’t be negotiated with.

    You think the greater evil before carries no psychological weight? Maybe that is what I’m getting at. Doesn’t the argument that life was better under Saddam mean that people don’t like being free?

  19. I don’t think people living in Iraq can, at this time, be described as free in any meaningful way. Right now, they are living under the martial law of a foreign power that just bombed the crap out of everything. Democracy, freedom, peace, prosperity…these are things that the foreign army that blew up Uncle Ahmed keep saying are going to come, someday. And there are firefights breaking out all over the place, and terrorist bombings, both of which are killing people left and right.

    The academic equation of comparing life under Saddam to life in a liberal democracy minus the damage done by the war probably doesn’t do a very good job describing the attitude of most Iraqis.

  20. Witless,

    Why don’t you go to Afghanistan and find out?

  21. “In other words, this is not Poland post-1980; there is no Solidarity!”

    It is easy to overstate the signifigance of a named organization that opposed Saddam. They were all shot or worse.

    Do you believe that liberty is universally compelling or not? We are watching an experiment in progress, and I don’t know which way it will go. The administration may wind up demonstrating to the world that Islam is utterly incompatable with a modern sense of freedom. That is valuable information, if somewhat depressing. Once the Iraqis are certain that Saddam is out of the picture and they believe that we will actually leave (the two things we must convince them of), if they still don’t take to the notion of forming a government of the people, we will have learned quite a bit.

    Or, we could find out that the wackos are really in the minority in the Middle East, as some take pains to argue. If a populist movement rises up once security is established, the administration’s case will have been made, more or less. People wanted to be free, but were afraid.

    Either way, we learn something about who the bad guys really are.

  22. “The administration may wind up demonstrating to the world that Islam is utterly incompatable with a modern sense of freedom.’

    Or, the administration may wind up demonstrating that people will side with ANYONE who takes up arms against a foreign occupier, and in doing so make it appear (and hand a massive PR victory to those who claim) that Islam in utterly incompatible with liberal democracy.

  23. “Or, the administration may wind up demonstrating that people will side with ANYONE who takes up arms against a foreign occupier…”

    That would demonstrate remarkable short sightedness, unless you believed the US wanted to stay there forever. Could be, though.

  24. Organizations, even gummints organized as democracies, are always the enemies of freedom. Unfortunately the urge to organize is more universal than the urge for freedom. The urge to organize is based on the deeper urge to get into a rut.

    Dubya’s exit strategy from the beginning should have concentrated on getting Ossama; then maybe Saddam just for the fun of it, then let the chips fall where they may.

    Occupiers can never be seen as humanitarian nation-builders.

  25. If I were living in Akkad/Sumeria/Babylonia/Assyria/Mesopotamia/Iraq, I would consider anyone who declared “That army is going to leave of its own devices” to be demonstrating remarkable shortsightedness. And when the foreign army left, I would probably believe the guy with the AK yelling “We drove the infidels out” before the guy in the suit saying over his shoulder “We planned this all along.”

  26. Mr. Young, you’re right that I was angry but I don’t apologize for my language. I suppose you’re right that the kind of long-lasting commitment that would be necessary to make sure Iraq is a model federal democratic republic and not a damn mess requires Dubya & Co. to convince the American public success in post-war Iraq is necessary.

    Unfortunately, they can’t convince the public of that because it’s not true. After being burned by the bogus insinuations of an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection and nonexistent WMD, it’s understandable. This is what irritated me about your essay — you seemed to glide over the substantive emptiness of Dubya & Co.’s case for war — and now, occupation.

    If the actual argument for war was that, no Iraq under Hussein is not really a threat to Americans, but let’s make an example out of ’em to wake up the Middle East, Dubya & Co. should have laid it out that way in more than just a couple of speeches at conservative think tanks.

    The real problem with the White House’s case for pre-emptive war and occupation is that Americans will support a war to defend national security, but not to engage in social engineering on a global scale. That’s why they sold it the way they did.

    “What are we fightin’ for?” indeed.

    “Where’s the beef?”

    And so on.

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