Towards A Good Samaritan World

Monday, June 19, 2006


A puzzle from recent Iraqi polling data:

A substantial portion of Iraqis support attacks on US led-forces, but not attacks on Iraqi government security forces or Iraqi civilians. Ethnic groups vary sharply on these questions.

Overall, 47% say they approve of “attacks on US-led forces” (23% strongly). There are huge differences between ethnic groups. An extraordinary 88% of Sunnis approve, with 77% approving strongly. Forty-one percent of Shia approve as well, but just 9% strongly. Even 16% of Kurds approve (8% strongly).

Naturally the question arises why it is that only 35% want US troops to withdraw within six months while 47% approve of attacks on US-led forces. Interestingly, 41% of those who support attacks do not favor a near-term withdrawal. One possible explanation is that the attacks are not prompted by a desire to bring about an immediate withdrawal, but to put pressure on the US so that it will eventually leave. Indeed, among those who approve of such attacks, 90% believe that the US plans to have bases in Iraq permanently and 87% assume that the US would refuse to leave even if asked to by the new Iraqi government.

I would suggest another reason that (some) Iraqis may support attacks on US troops: they want the insurgents to kill, and (better yet) be killed by, Americans, instead of killing Iraqis. Some Americans may be offended by this "better them than us" logic. But recall that some Americans once argued for Iraq as a "flypaper strategy": the Iraq War sucked terrorists in there, to be killed, so that they wouldn't attack us at home. Whether or not this was ever part of US strategy, that probably is what has happened, and may be part of the explanation for why there have been no terrorist attacks on the US since then.

If you think about it from the point of view of a people who has borne the brunt of so much violence and tyranny, how could Iraqis not prefer that insurgents kill Americans rather than killing Iraqis? Those lucky Americans have never been conquered, never suffered under a totalitarian regime! Surely if we can redistribute the pain from long-suffering Iraqis to born-under-a-lucky-star Americans, that's fair, isn't it? As an American, of course, this argument makes me uncomfortable, but if I were an Iraqi it would be hard to resist.

So would I "support attacks on American forces," if I were an Iraqi? Depends on how I interpreted the question, but maybe so.


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