Thursday, September 06, 2007

Iraq's Struggle: Who You Gonna Believe? The Media or Your Lyin' Eyes?

The list of those who have invested deeply in a US defeat in Iraq (actually a defeat for the Iraqi people) is long, and includes most western media, most leftist politicians, most leftist bloggers, and most academics in the social sciences. Iraq indeed has relatively few westerners who believe in its future. How long would that take to change?
The major problem in Iraq is back in the United States. There, many politicians either don't bother, or don't want to believe, what is actually happening, and has happened, in Iraq. In a way, that makes sense. Because what is going on in Iraq is so totally alien to the experience of American politicians. Moreover, many Americans take a purely partisan, party line, attitude towards Iraq. So logic and fact has nothing to do with their assessments of the situation.

...When Saddam was deposed in 2003, most (well, many) Sunni Arabs believed they would only be out of power temporarily. This sort of thing you can pick up on the Internet (OK, mostly on Arab language message boards, but it's out there). Saddam's followers (the Baath Party) and al Qaeda believed a few years of terror would subdue the Shia, scare away the Americans, and the Sunni Arabs would return to their natural state as the rulers of Iraq. U.S. troops quickly picked up on this Sunni mindset. Because Sunni Arabs were the best educated group, most of the local translators the troops used were Sunni Arabs, and even these guys took it for granted that, eventually, the Sunni Arabs would have to be in charge if the country were to function. The Sunni Arabs believed the Shia were a bunch of ignorant, excitable, inept (and so on) scum who could never run a government. Four years later, the Shia have sort-of proved the Sunni Arabs wrong. Now many Sunni Arabs want to make peace, not suicide bombs.

Which brings up another major issue in Iraq. Many Iraqis believe only a dictator can run the country, and force all the factions to behave. However, a majority of Iraqis recognize that dictatorships tend to be poor and repressive, while democracies are prosperous and pleasant. The problem is that the traditions of tribalism and corruption (everything, and everyone, has their price) do not mesh well with democracy. This doesn't mean democracy can't work under these conditions, many do. It does mean that it takes more effort, and the results are not neat and clean, as Americans expect their democracies to be.

The basic problem is that the United States is divided into two groups; those who have worked (or fought) in Iraq, or otherwise paid close attention to what's happening on the ground, and those who create their own picture of what's happening, one that fits other needs (personal, political, religious). No amount of wishing will change what is going on over there. The majority of the population hates the Sunni Arabs, who now have four years of terrorist attacks added to their list of sins. The Kurds, although beset by corruption and factionalism, have shown that you can still have peace, security and prosperity if everyone works together. The Arabs to the south see that, but have not been able to work together well enough to make it happen. Will the Arabs be able to overcome their factionalism and hatreds? THAT is the big question. What is lost in all the rhetoric about Iraq is that Iraq is the only real Arab democracy in the Middle East. Egypt is a one party state, a dictatorship masquerading as a dictatorship. Every other Arab state is either a dictatorship or a monarchy.

Iraqis know they are in a position to show the way, to an era of better government, and the freedoms and prosperity that flows from that. Iraqis know they have problems with religion, tribalism and corruption. Iraqis know what they are up against. Do you?

Strategy Page

Once a blogger, a journalist, a politician, an academic, an intellectual invests so deeply in defeat that he cannot possibly extricate himself without serious explanation, such a person--unless scrupulously honest--will feel forced to present defeat as the reality, well beyond the point when a reasonable person begins to have doubts. Since a widespread belief in defeat often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, such persons may feel that their best course is to bluff the situation to the end. They feel, if they are lucky, that defeat will surely happen, if they can convince everyone of its inevitability.

This pretense of theirs, which seems the most important thing in the world to maintain, is actually quite a small thing in reality. But will they ever understand?

To them, it is important that a particular politician, or a particular political party, or a particular ideological grouping, or a particular nation, lose. But it is the people who want a better life who will lose, thanks in no small way to these small time investors, who invested so deeply in the defeat of those they hated, which was actually the defeat of the hopes of many millions for a better life.

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