Friday, February 24, 2006

Cut and Run, Don't Walk

I have long maintained that we have an obligation to the Iraqi people: after invading their country following mistaken accusations that Saddam Hussein possessed banned weapons of mass destruction (later, "weapons of mass destruction related program activities") and actively maintained ties with Al Qaeda leadership, the least we could do was rebuild and repair the infrastructure that was damaged in the process and help guide (without controlling) the formation of a new representative government.

I am, sadly, no longer convinced that success is possible, at least not now.

I've written a lot about what "democracy" means: not just majority rule, but civil protections for minorities, freedom of speech, and the rule of law, accompanied by explicit rights such as rights to counsel, due process, appeal, habeas corpus review, etc.

Unspoken and unwritten in all our great founding documents is that democracy is the best substitute for violence. Not an antidote, mind you, but a substitute. The idea of western democracy was created by people who had fully accepted that the best way to solve problems was to sort them out rationally, not to kill people who disagreed with you.

Of course you can look to America and see violence all around: school shootings, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Los Angeles riots, etc. But these are extraordinary events, not daily circumstances. Yes, we've had presidents assassinated and abortion clinics bombed, but generally our public differences are resolved through civil means.

Look at the current fight over gay rights: yes, there's anti-gay violence now and then, certainly more than we'd like, but the "fight," such as it is, is in the courts and the voting booths, not in the streets. As a culture, we have renounced violence as a solution. Democrats don't bomb Republican campaign offices. Republicans don't kidnap Democrats' children. We don't take innocent reporters hostage and make unreasonable, unanswerable demands. Catholics won't allow me, a Protestant, to take communion at their altars, but they're not plotting the demolition of Grace Cathedral.

Look at the 2000 election. Sure, many of us feel the result was illegitimate, and it's not contested that Al Gore received more votes nationally than George Bush. But such is our commitment to civil society and respect for the law and each other that we acquiesced. We knew there was another chance in 2004. And there will be another one in 2008. That same situation in many other parts of the world would have resulted in burning cars and martial law and politicians fleeing for their lives. Not here.

The middle east hasn't gotten there yet.

Violence and rivalries, probably evolutionary leftovers from the days when it really was survival of the fittest, still abound. But we channel them into things like sports. We can assume a local identity, such as being a Yankees' fan, and we can enjoy our rivalry with the Red Sox -- which has lasted a century now -- but a few idiots aside, this doesn't result in violence. It mimics it, in a way, but it also replaces it.

In the run-up to the Iraq invasion, President Bush made a lot of facile comparisons between Saddam and Iraq and Hitler and Germany. Historians and middle-east experts cautioned, however, that the more appropriate analogy was Yugoslavia: an artificial nation comprised of disparate ethnic and religious groups arrogantly stitched together by foreign powers who thought they knew better.

How will you prevent civil war, the skeptics asked the President, once you have freed Iraq from the iron grip of Saddam Hussein? How will you keep the majority Shiites, long oppressed, from retaliating against their minority oppressors? Instead of receiving an answer, we were accused of being unpatriotic. In the President's mind, fantasy-based optimism is a more responsible position than pragmatism that takes into account unpleasant realities and potential outcomes.

Democracy won't take hold there until the people decide they really want it for themselves. It is not for America to bestow. Right now they seem content to slaughter each other. They are not going to end centuries-old hostilities because Condoleezza Rice asks them nicely. The United States should be ready and willing to help when our help is invited. Until that time, let's not waste lives, money and energy on people who don't appreciate it.

Support the troops. Get them the hell out of there.


Jeff said...

The answer: give them sports teams.

Robert Bayn said...

You can't force freedom, and that's a mistake we have made. Though i agree it has been a horrible situation, we have no choice now, but to fix this situation, leaving now creates a terrorist nation.

Anthony said...

That should have been the attitude all along: most will be grateful that Saddam Hussein has been deposed, but beyond that the role of the US and her allies in this should have been one of support. Bearing in mind the hostility between Iraq and the invading forces, it should have been clear from the start that imposing Western principles (of government, if nothing else) was only ever going to fuel resentment.

The Yugoslavian parallel is an apt one, but I hope - for the sake of the Iraqi people - that this doesn't mean we've got ethnic cleansing still to come ...

little-cicero said...

I agree with a great deal of what you said here...the idea that democracy replaces violence as you know has long been my argument for operations in Iraq. To say, however, that just because the Iraqi people are not ready for unity, they are not ready for democracy, to me is illogical.

You may well be right that Iraq is like Yugoslavia in its disunity, but in this case, you might also compare it to Great Britain, which, with the exception of Ireland (because they tried to impose too much federal juristiction on a people who were too different to allow it), has resolved its regional(Welsh, Scotch, English, Northern Irish) disputes by maintaining a loose union while at the same time increasing regional sovereignty. Perhaps the solution, then, is to give more power to provincial governments in Iraq, and less to the Federal Government, but to support a total dissolution and succombing to the forces of al-Quaeda, which is inevitable if we should withdraw, is not supporting the troops, it is making their sacrifice a total waste.

Andy said...

If you're referring to "God helps those who help themselves," it's not from the Bible -- it's Ben Franklin.

Trickish Knave said...

Although there is much evidence of Saddam's WMD programs, even from the mouth of his own relatives in charge of the programs, I would have to agree that we just need to cut our losses in that hell hole.

It will be disastrous, at best, to do so but I don't really see any long term resolution especially in a country where it doesn't appear that the people want to help themselves.

Doesn't Allah have a pragmatic quote about that?