Wednesday, June 20

Inside the Box: More on the US in Iraq

Dave Schuler at The Glittering Eye has rounded up some recent mainstream opinion on the Iraq situation, and below is his take on my Three Kings post, and my reply.

Dear Pundita:
There have been rumors floating around of a U. S.-backed coup headed by Iyad Allawi for a year now. I think there are several reasons for them.

First, I think that a lot of Iraqis just can't imagine peaceful surrender of power: Allawi couldn't possibly just relinquish power voluntarily; he must be planning a coup.

Second, the Shi'a in particular tend to completely conflate Sunnis and Ba'athists. I don't know that they're wrong. They think that the Ba'athists, e.g., Allawi, will do anything to regain power. Hence, a coup.

Third, they may be right. Who knows?

[Regarding your observation about the US muddling through in Iraq], I'm reminded of a comment by the late Mayor Daley (in response to charges that the Chicago police had provoked a riot (or rioted themselves) at the Democratic Convention in 1968:

"The Chicago police were not there to create disorder. The Chicago police were there to PRESERVE disorder."
Dave Schuler

Dear Dave:
I got a laugh from your Mayor Daley story; the quote is vintage Daley!

I think I've observed once before that best metaphor for the US in Iraq is the heroine in the movie Cold Comfort Farm; the relatives she helps are a perfect metaphor for the majority of Iraqis.

I daresay no one from an advanced nation who has worked in development in third world countries can watch Cold Comfort Farm without collapsing in laughter mixed with tears of frustration and understanding.

My dear Dave, the world is full of very stubborn and proud people who are very set in their ways, and whose way of life is so overgrown with moss that it's intolerable, even for them. They know they have to change, but that means giving up a way of life they're used to. And it means dealing with their fear that the earth will open up and swallow them in vengeance, if do abandon the old ways.

What wins in that situation? If you cast out the inhumane approaches to modernizing views, of the kind that Mao deployed, you're left with the tactics of tenacity and patience. You just have to hang in there and repeat the same points, over and over and over -- without losing your temper or acting superior.

It's a fair argument that the heroine of Cold Comfort Farm didn't have to shed blood in order to help her relatives join the modern era. Yet it's also fair to argue that when the Coalition toppled Saddam Hussein's government, we ripped the lid off Pandora's Box. We were horrified when we learned what was inside the box.

Senator Gordon Smith recently recounted that Muslim Iraqi police cadets stoned to death their Iraqi training officer because they found out he was a Catholic.

There is the common practice of intermarriage between first cousins. Brain damage and all kinds of birth defects are rampant in the region because of the practice. Polygamy is rampant, even though most families can't support many children.

One horror after another -- horrors that should have been left behind when the modern era came. Yet generations of Europeans and Americans who dealt with those peoples turned a blind eye.

Piled on top of all that grief was the UN embargo and Saddam's abuse of the Oil for Food Program, which was responsible for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths.

An entire population was being killed off -- not by a planned genocide or the throes of war but through cruelty, ignorance, and criminal neglect.

I realize I'm skating near the Nurture vs. Nature argument, but these are fellow humans. So who among us is willing to say that maybe it's best that the most backward among us die off? We can't say that -- and even wanted to, there is the bogeyman to contend with. Al Qaeda will not allow us to let things be, to turn a blind eye.

So we are left in the position of the very modern heroine in Cold Comfort Farm -- and with the warning that Prince Bandar gave President Bush when Bandar learned that Bush wanted to invade Iraq: Just remember you're buying the farm.

And everything inside the box.

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