Thursday, March 02, 2006

Lindsay Beyerstein on the U.S. role in Iraq

She's as much a red-diaper baby as you can find these days.

My parents met in Berkeley in the 1960s while my dad was doing his PhD. Being raised by academic hippies is like being raised by wolves--you can rejoin human society, but you can never integrate seamlessly.

In my family, even pets and infants are addressed in complete sentences. There are no taboo subjects, except when the conservative relatives visit from the interior. Then we can't talk about religion.

I remember the day in kindergarden when one little boy announced that he had a baby brother. How did that happen, someone asked. The kid said something about God. Other kids were floating theories about angel-storks. I felt I had to set the record straight. Many children cried.

My mom was called in for a parent-teacher conference. The teacher was very upset.
"Did she tell the truth?" Mom asked."Oh, yes," the teacher said, "In great detail.""I don't think we have a problem, then," Mom said.

This post and its foil, another post by Jeff Goldstein, are required reading today. No one reading both of these pieces will come away from them unaltered unless they have the mindset of Don't confuse me with facts because my mind is already made up. Admitedly, since it is her post she has the last word, but I come away from it pursuaded that she is on target.

It should have been clear from the beginning that our job wasn't just to free Iraqis from Saddam Hussein, but to impose a system of government on them. Forcing democracy on people who don't want it is an infintely harder task than facilitating democracy for those who do. It was obvious from the outset that if we unseated Saddam, the United States would either have to force democracy on a substantial segment of the Iraqi population, or accept an undemocratic successor.

There was simply no evidence that the US effort to democratize Iraq was likely to succeed. Obviously, a large absolute number of Iraqis do want democracy, at least as measured by voter turnout. However, it was crazy to ingore the forseeable fact that a subtantial minority of the population would stop at nothing to derail our efforts.

It's ironic that the same thumbsucking bedwetters who fear that Islamic immigration is undermining democracy in the West were so confident that the Iraqi people would readily embrace democracy at home. In one breath they say that Islam and democracy can't coexist, in the next they insist that a democratic Iraq is just around the corner. Critics of the war don't have to show that a democratic Iraq was absolute impossible from the outset, merely that it was so unlikely that the admistration was negligent to invade Iraq given the evidence at hand. In any sane moral calcuculs, you need an overwhelming probabitity of success before you start killing people for the sake of some principle, however important.
At this point the right wing will trot out arguments about how we simply can't give up the struggle because the insurgents are so evil. What started out as a rational calculus has become a crusade for them. The democratization of Iraq was desirable in the abstract becaue it would have improved the lives of the Iraqi people and perhaps improved our security situation. It's now abundantly clear that persuing this failed project is not futhering anyone's welfare or security. We lost and we spread terror in the proccess. If we stay in Iraq, we're just killing our own people to cover for our mistakes.

The Goldsteinn post has an addendum responding to some of his critics, but I don't find anything to refute the basic argument, that

...showing a united front against the terrorists ... would weaken the insurgency and show solidarity with a fledgling democracy. Doing so at a time when civil war is possible thanks to the provocations of terrorists is particularly important if our goal is to win the war in Iraq ...

Agreed, in principle, but in the end the tipping point will be determined in Iraq, not in the pages of U.S. opinion makers. Besides, as in the case of a lot of other wars, when the word win is used, the meaning is not as clear as either the speaker or the listener imagine it to be. It is a word that Lindsay seems carefully to have avoided. I appreciate that.


John Sobieski said...

Islam and democracy don't mix. Democracy under Islam becomes a dictatorship. Venezuela is a non Islamist example of this pseudo democracy, Indonesia and Malaysia and Iran of the Islam pseudodemocracy.

Do I wish there were no Muslims in America? Absolutely. Time will prove me right to the naysayers.

whispers said...

Brains for sale, any buyers?

Do I wish there were no Muslims in America? Absolutely.

Ooh, a potential client!

Hoots said...

Thanks. Good point.
I didn't bother to reply in March because it wasn't worth the trouble. Didn't expect to see the post again.

In this case, brains for sale likely won't help. Even brains for FREE wouldn't do much good.