Sunday, December 18, 2005

Neocon Fantasy Camp
I had to listen to Bush's speech tonight, as Fox pushed back Family Guy to show it and, well, I didn't really want to get up. Besides, every time he gets in front of the cameras I figure there's about a 1 percent chance he'll just resign--and not necessarily at the start of the speech, but maybe in the middle. Maybe mid-sentence: "Saddam Hussein's regime maintained interest in and capability to start reconstituting its arsenal of deadly... ahhh, you know what? Fuck this. I quit. I'm going home. It's too fucking hard and I don't really care all that much."

But actually watching this thing, I think he honestly fails to understand that the two goals he repeatedly points toward in Iraq--a soverign nation-state with popularly sanctioned government, and a strategic partner and ally for the U.S. in the region--are simply incompatible.

These people, for a lot of reasons, will not choose to be on friendly terms with the United States. (They probably won't even choose to be on friendly terms with each other; the Kurds want their own state, and the sectarian divisions will prove stronger than the West-imposed "national identity" of Iraq. They don't think of themselves as a country any more than three people in a horse costume might think of themselves as a horse.)

But when they look at America--the country that sent money and weapons to help keep Saddam in power over them for decades; then encouraged a revolt against Saddam; then did nothing as he crushed the revolt; then imposed sanctions that helped kill hundreds of thousands (and suggested that hideous cost was "worth it") and visited upon "the Iraqi people" infinitely pain and suffering than they did Saddam--they are not going to see a friend. They certainly are not going to see a model to emulate. The goals of our grand state policy toward Iraq have shifted over time, but the means have always been the same: to use and abuse "the Iraqi people". Whatever our policymakers' actual intentions are (oil? military bases? honestly to spread democracy and self-determination?), those on the receiving end of them aren't assuming the best.

Given that there is no tradition of "civil government" among Muslims, in the sense of governance without an explicit religious sanction, it's a pretty safe bet that Iraq ultimately will elect something like an operational theocracy. I guess there is some chance (but not much of one, given the great differences in historical experience) Iraq--again, assuming such a state continued to exist at all--could eventually turn into Turkey. It's much more likely--because of oil, ethnicity and a similarly fraught history with the United States--that they'll turn into something like Iran. Again, it's possible that the two Islamic states, given their own recent and very deadly war, will become rivals and in some sense balance each other out (in which case we could have two Islamist powers seeking the Bomb--also not a great scenario). It's also possible that their common interests and shared Shi'a majorities will bring them together in partnership.

But what's absolutely not possible is for a secular, pro-Western government to organically emerge, with true popular support. It's not coincidence that the U.S. chose first Chalabi, and than Allawi, for leadership of the post-Saddam Iraq: They were the closest to this ideal they could think of. In Chalabi's case that meant a proven liar and con man, who turned out to be even worse than we'd thought. In Allawi's case, it meant presenting a known CIA asset, who had turned after actually being allied with Saddam at one point, as the best match for this American ideal of an Iraqi leader.

For the two cornerstones of Bush's speech about Iraq to be true--that we are building both a self-governing and eventually pro-U.S. government--is, based on everything we know about these people and this part of the world, almost unimaginable. This shouldn't be news to anyone in a position of power. So here's my questions: does he, in his proud cocoon where news is brought by loyalists, debate is unwelcome and dissent is not tolerated,really believe it, and is basing policy thusly? Or is he so cynical that he (or whoever is making the decision) thinks both no one will come out and strongly argue that what he proposes is impossible, and/or that by the time events prove him wrong, nobody will call him on it?

But there was a happy postscript. After the speech ended, as the other networks trotted out their Russerts and (I'm guessing) Stephanopouli, Fox switched right back to "Family Guy," in its entirety. The urge to make money, in this case by broadcasting a show with values and a viewpoint it's safe to say that Fox News does not share, trumped the urge to show their bubbleheads in post-ejacaulatory languor over Bush's speech. God bless America!

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