Tuesday, May 10, 2005


After Whose Desire?

Can there be any soul more jaded than the intellect who sneers at anything that he has not endorsed, with cool and detached disdain?

George Packer, writing in Footnotes, in the New Yorker, puffs out airy pronouncements of what Iraqis think of their "dime store democracy," corrupted by venal powerbrokers who sniff past their American benefactors as they grapple for the spoils. He draws Hershfeld-like caricatures of the political players (apropos I suppose for the New Yorker), followed by the usual uninformed exaggerations of emerging civil war. If this is civil war, George, I'd say it's pretty civil indeed. With little evidence but press pool reporting from the Green Zone, Packer declares:
The stakes would be lower if Iraq were not fighting a desperate insurgency that looks more and more like a civil war. Every banal decision, every job offered or withheld, carries the risk of driving more Sunnis to take up weapons, and of forcing Shiites and Kurds to cling tighter to power. Iraq has never had a unifying visionary politician—a Mandela, a Havel, or a Gandhi. The man who comes nearest, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, isn’t a politician, and, as a Shiite cleric, he has a limited ability to unify; his electoral intervention on behalf of the Shiite coalition tarnished his lustre as a truly national figure. “The Hour is great,” Carlyle wrote, “and the Honorable Gentlemen, I must say, are small.” But you create a democracy with the talent you have, and Iraq’s politicians are confronting the most vexing existential questions.
I see. No Gandhi, no Havel, and certainly no Mandela, the cause is lost and the effort wasted. (Had Saddam only let such as these live.)

What tripe. How ethnocentric is this? If we happened upon just the man, or woman, who will know how to weave this tapestry that will be Iraq into form, why would we presume upon the Iraqis to know who that would be? What that person would look like or sound like?

The problem with hindsight in spectacular events of momentous historic import, is how rarely we can see them coming in full form. Surely three months into a new government is a tad premature to call the emerging creature malformed. And what does Packer mean by saying that Iraqi politicians "are confronting the most vexing existential questions." Most vexing questions about their existence? Or that they're sitting around in cafes muttering dark thoughts and frustrations over the non-meaning of life? These aren't French or U.N. politicians, they haven't been in the game long enough to reach that level of ennui I think.

I do not know George Packer, but I surmise he was against the War as a foolish and peril-fraught endeavor. But I would be willing to bet that, prior to the war, he made statements to the effect that the U.S. can't impose democrary by force, that we were foolish to think we could create American style democracy, etc. etc. In other words, my guess, he used the informed wisdom of the continentals as a bat against the naive policy of Bush and the neocons.

And yet he concludes, with not a trace of apparent irony:
Two years ago, there was a moment when the Americans might have molded Iraq after their own desire, for better or worse. Their incompetence surprised no one more than the Iraqis. The country has long since hardened into its own shape, and whether it holds together or breaks into pieces is largely up to the Iraqis who now have it in their hands. But the least debt that Americans now owe Iraq is to realize that the footnotes will control the lives of Iraqis for years to come, with plenty of time left for great improvement or great damage.
Iraqis have been surprised by coalition incompetence? That would be news indeed. The stunning success of coalition military efforts, the utter ineffectiveness of the insurgency, its only recourse the targeting of Iraqis, all followed by stunningly successful elections -- these have greatly reduced the level and effectivness of an "insurgency" which easily have been far worse.

The notion that we might have been successful had we only "molded Iraq after our own desire," is the height of doublemindedness, or deceitful argument. The entire point of this exercise is for Iraqis to fulfill their own desires, for their own rule, of their own government.

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