Towards A Good Samaritan World

Monday, September 04, 2006



Yes, the Iraq invasion has gone badly, and to deny this is to suggest that Bush meant for things to turn out this way, which is even crueler than saying he failed to get it right.

I beg to differ. I don't think the Iraq invasion has gone particularly badly relative to what could be realistically expected. It was still the right thing to do, because, among other things, the chaotic and violent situation in Iraq today is not (nearly) as bad as life under Saddam, from the point of view of a freedom-lover, such as myself, or most Iraqis. I don't consider this position to be "cruel" to Bush. On the contrary.

An interesting article in the Washington Post:

[Iraqi vice president Adel Abdul Mahdi] was here to deliver a message, and ask a question, on behalf of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who remains Iraq's single most influential figure -- and the linchpin of the past 40 months of political reconstruction. Sistani's message to Bush, Mahdi told a group of reporters I joined last week, was that "Iraqis are sticking to the principles of the constitution and democracy." But the ayatollah wanted to know if the United States is still on board as well...

Mahdi said he got Bush's commitment to stand by the government. But the uncertainty he expressed on behalf of Sistani was real. "When I read the [American] press, I'm confused," said the burly, bearded economist, who was educated in a Jesuit school in Baghdad and later in France and who speaks fluent English.

The worry goes deeper than that caused by growing calls for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops, or by reports that some even in the Bush administration are considering the abandonment of Iraqi democracy. As Mahdi sees it, American and Iraqi agendas are more broadly out of sync. Whether or not they support the government and the war, Americans are looking for ways to quickly reverse -- or escape from -- the deteriorating situation they see on the ground.

Mahdi, Sistani and other Shiite leaders in the government don't share Washington's perception of a downward spiral. They also don't buy the American sense of urgency -- the oft-expressed idea that the new government has only a few months to succeed. Consequently, the many ideas for silver bullets tossed around in the U.S. debate mostly don't interest them.

You could see this in the conversation I joined at Mahdi's suite at the Ritz Carlton hotel. We journalists peppered him with questions about why the formation of a unity government had failed to reduce the violence. We asked about all the options usually talked about in Washington -- from a rewrite of the constitution to a partition of the country; from an international conference to the dispatch of more U.S. troops.

For the most part, our queries were politely and somewhat laconically dismissed. Iraq is not in a civil war, Mahdi said, and doesn't need more U.S. troops. It has a constitution and elected government, and thus there is no need for an international conference. As for constitutional reform, the Shiite and Kurd parties that wrote the charter last year are waiting for proposals from Sunni dissidents. Mahdi added: "So far we have heard nothing."

So what is the solution? "Time -- that is it," Mahdi replied. "A nation like Iraq needs time. The elections for a permanent government happened eight months ago. We have been in office a few weeks. The people who we have in office have never governed. These people come from oppression and a bad political system. We can't import ministers to Iraq. There will be many mistakes. The Americans made many mistakes, and Iraqis had to support that."

"Our options as Iraqis are that we don't have an exit strategy or any withdrawal timetable," Mahdi said, somewhat bitterly. "We simply go on. . . . It is a process, and brick by brick we are working on it."

Yeah. Madhi gets it. Sistani gets it. Bush gets it. What is so confusing for other Americans?


  • Sadly, I don't think most Americans care about Iraq qua Iraq as they do about Iraq qua a reflection of US policy. Farther left liberals are fundementally suspicious of any military intervention, especially as conducted by their ideological enemies. A large segment of conservatives are suspicious of internationalism in general and generally only support punitive interventions*. Still another segment just doesn't want any American troops dying unless it's inarguably unavoidable.

    For the anti-internationalists, Iraq represented a chance to discredit the world's slow, fraction internationalist institutions by showing that the US could (nearly) unilaterally bring about a democratic state in Iraq. As a domestic politics booster, they could even do it on the cheap! No need for all those extra troops to be employed in keeping the peace and protecting reconstruction efforts, no need for the expensive additional armor one needs for asymmetric warfare and so on.

    As for the "pull out now" crowd... I think some of them really think that removing US influence from any situation makes for a more equitable solution, but I think most of them don't bother to consider Iraq in any holistic way. For them, bringing the troops home soon would be a vindication of their opposition to the war. Maybe they would even (privately) cheer a civil war in Iraq as egg on the administration's face. That sentiment makes me ill. As much as I abhor Bush and (most of) his policies, I'd gladly suffer his vindication if it means Iraq and Afghanistan achieve stable, equitable democracy. Of course, I've always been a progressive interventionist who believes it's worth American lives to bring about a better world, so there's less conflict for me than for lots of folks who don't give a rat's patootie about non-Americans with dark complexions who talk funny.

    *The segment only supporting punitive interventions is much larger than the more focused anti-internationalists and is less uniformly composed of conservatives.

    By Blogger Nato, at 8:29 PM  

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