Monday, August 25, 2003

Well, Friedman is at it again, engaging in a bit of poorly examined wishful thinking. WitnessFriedman's "The Big One":

We are attracting all these opponents to Iraq because they understand this war is The Big One. They don't believe their own propaganda. They know this is not a war for oil. They know this is a war over ideas and values and governance. They know this war is about Western powers, helped by the U.N., coming into the heart of their world to promote more decent, open, tolerant, women-friendly, pluralistic governments by starting with Iraq- a country that contains all the main strands of the region: Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
Assumptions abound here, and some simply don't make sense. The big one here is that Tom's assertions actually reflect the understandings of those that are going into Iraq. It comes back to the same criticism that others have had about the theories of David Adesnik... it might conceivably be true, but why on earth should we believe it, and how can we trust an argument built on such fragile foundations? It is hardly settled that this is not a "war for oil" (far from it), and Tom conveniently ignores a major reason why Arabs would be pouring into Iraq: the fear that the Iraqi state will become a puppet government for a Western power, with an ineffective democracy with administration largely by corporations aligned with the U.S. Government and the Republican party.

This seems to be the elephant in the room. Nobody seems to talks about it, especially the hawkish liberals like Friedman. It's mostly discussed by leftists; they claim that Iraq is "imperialism". I don't buy that argument, not exactly, because there is some truth to the "Americans distrust empire" meme... but they are certainly looking for a client state, and the conflict between Iraqi and American interests is pretty obvious, especially when one considers the Turkish example. Realism rears its ugly head once again.

You'd think from listening to America's European and Arab critics that we'd upset some bucolic native culture and natural harmony in Iraq, as if the Baath Party were some colorful local tribe out of National Geographic. Alas, our opponents in Iraq, and their fellow travelers, know otherwise. They know they represent various forms of clan and gang rule, and various forms of religious and secular totalitarianism- from Talibanism to Baathism. And they know that they need external enemies to thrive and justify imposing their demented visions.
I'll leave aside that "external enemies" bit, because it's such an easy target when one is discussing Republican foreign policy.

The real problem with the assumptions here is that the critics of whatever stripe believe that Iraq was bucolic. This could be a strawman, and certainly smells of it, but Friedman may honestly believe this, and it's because he misunderstands the problem that Saddam presented and continues to present. Like most dictators, he treated his people with contempt and was an ineffective administrator (to put it mildly); unfortunately, like many dictators, he staved off internal strife and chaos precisely through the brutal repression that made him so hated. Hobbes pointed out that this is the most important role of a sovereign leader, democratic or otherwise, because he realized (and Tom forgets) that chaos is so very much worse that even a Saddam is preferable. (For proof, see most of Western Africa.) Iraqis and American critics worry that despite American efforts, Iraq will disintegrate, and become a black hole that will suck what stability exists out of the region.

Friedman also ignores an inevitable future event. Iraqi interests and American interests will diverge. Not "may"... will, and to an extent that makes the divide unbridgeable and the resolution of which will be intolerable to one side or another. There is no doubt about this. When that happens, one of two things may happen if the Americans run the show, or are allied with the Iraqis.

1)American interests will prevail, because they really rule the country (one could think of this as the "Shah scenario"):

Iraq will be hurt by this, perhaps deeply, and Iraqis will either begin to resent the United States or (more likely) will remove the American-controlled government. We'll get the Shah all over again, Iraq will descend into chaos and the Islamic theocrats will take over during the chaos, because they will present a proven alternative to U.S. alignment- Iran may not be pleasant, but at least it's certainly independent. Iran will probably snap up a big chunk of Iraq, and the United States will either have its interests hurt or go to war with Iran, a state that may well be nuclear very soon.

2)Iraqi interests will prevail, because they really do have sovereignty. (One could look at this as the "Turkish scenario"):

This will be the best result for the Iraqis, but it may hurt the stability of American security interests, and it will either cause the United States to tighten its grip or withdraw completely and engage in retaliatory measures. As the entire point of the Iraqi exercise is to have a U.S. friendly regime in the region in order to ensure its interests, this is a big problem, but it's inevitable. It will also create huge internal conflict for the United States, because it will force the U.S. to decide between its role as the "shining city on the hill" and its real security needs. I doubt the former will work, and the decision will may future U.S. nation building efforts extremely difficult, if not impossible. That's a problem, because although nation building is extremely difficult in Iraq, it's much more likely to work in failed or collapsed states, such as Liberia, where the U.S. would perceived as a creator of order instead of chaos.

(This is another factor that Friedman seems to never consider- the fact that Iraqis feel that the Americans are largely responsible for the mess they're in. The sanctions were at the behest of the Americans and the Americans were the invaders; without either, Iraq would still be a dictatorship but the last decade and the last few months would not have been remotely as bad as they were. Iraqis aren't going to forget that, even if they are glad that they Americans removed Saddam.)

Of course, this latter scenario could be reversed... the United States could value its symbolic and moral role more than its security interests, and give up some of the latter in the face of the former. That will likely work for most issues, but by definition it can't work for all... sooner or later, something will give, and the U.S. will attempt to exert control.

Finally, this:

In short, America's opponents know just what's at stake in the postwar struggle for Iraq, which is why they flock there: beat America's ideas in Iraq and you beat them out of the whole region; lose to America there, lose everywhere.
This is ludicrous. If Iraq goes democratic, they will be as fully aware of the inevitable conflict between American and Iraqi interests as I am. They'll hunker down and wait, and exploit the chaos when they can. If the Americans start exploiting Iraq to press their case for nation building and westernization, it would also be relatively simple to make the argument that Iraq is simply one particular case that is not exportable to other countries, and make the point that the United States is only giving Iraq its head as long as Iraq goes in the direction they want. The only way that the United States can really make this work is if they successfully "nation build" in several hetereogenous countries and allow them to make decisions that are seriously against American strategic interests. It's possible, but again, sooner or later something has to give, and the more countries get "built" the more likely it is that the type of issue I described above will emerge. This is why the "realists" have been consistently against this war... because they know what's going to happen.

Tom's a smart guy, but he's too busy spinning this story of a climactic war between goodness and light against darkness and evil to look at the situation honestly. It seems like he's been doing this for a while now, but at least before the war it was plausible that the U.S. would secure the country quickly and enjoy flowers and hosannas from the people. That isn't happening, and he needs to recognize it. He's attempting to alter reality to fit his theory, and that's not the mark of a journalist, but of a propagandist. Honestly, Tom, that's really not a good career choice. Just ask that Information Minister.

No comments:

Post a Comment