'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Liberal Hawks Know Best? 

Lawrence Kaplan makes the case for staying in Iraq in the supposedly liberal New Republic, furthering the venerable journal's odd transformation into the Weekly Standard of the liberal branch of the neoconservative movement.

Basically Kaplan offers the standard argument: the US can't withdraw from Iraq because doing so would cause a bloodbath. He supports the argument with lots of anecdotal evidence. He says that the autumn offensive in Tall Afar, Operation Restore Rights, was very successful and that if we peer hard enough at Tall Afar we can see a sort of mirror image of what a full withdrawal from Iraq will look like: Tall Afar before Restore Rights is what Iraq will be after the US leaves.

Tall Afar is a cause célèbre on the right -- the mayor of the war-ravaged city sent a letter thanking the "Courageous Men and Women of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment". There are pictures of smiling Iraqi children among smiling American troops. The mayor and smiling children do not apparently mind that the oppression from which they were delivered was a direct and predictable result of the American invasion in the first place. Such considerations also seem to have no noticeable effect on two classes of political commentators who find a near pornographic delight in thankful Iraqi mayors: big name fools like Kaplan who staked their reputations on Bush's folly and the little deluded nobodies with second-tier blogs pining away for "good news from Iraq" in an era of open civil war in which bombings that kill less than twenty are hardly news and in which big name conservatives are jumping ship faster than you can say "Fukuyama".

Kaplan selects a story with a happy ending and wants us to view the entire occupation through the prism of his one story. But viewing the Iraq War through the prism of one narrative is how we got into this mess in the first place. Let me select another story: how about Fallujah? Did the mayor of Fallujah send any letters to the liberators of his city? Would the 150,000 Fallujans currently living in tent villages care to pose for any pictures?

Fallujah is never mentioned in pieces like Kaplan's because apologists for the occupation are incapable of seeing American troops as anything but benign and they are incapable of seeing Iraqi insurgents, only foreign fighters. The fact is, as too many commentators have argued to go into here, the insurgency is primarily composed of Iraqis and thus can be read in its entirety as a violent and bloody letter asking the courageous men and women of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment to please take their things and go home.

Kaplan's piece is obviously informed by the current turn toward full civil war. He implies that the usual US as bloodbath-deterrent line is more applicable than ever given that the bloodbath may be underway. But this argument ignores the degree to which the US is inflaming civil war. The insurgents are primarily sunnis. The new Iraqi government that was created, is funded, and is defended by the United States is dominated by shiites. The new Iraqi army -- the one that's cracking the whip on all those sunni insurgents -- is primarily shiite; it is in effect a huge shiite militia that is supported by the United States. When events like the Samarra mosque bombing occur one must wonder to what extent the animosity of sunnis toward shiites is due to the perception that the shiites are actively collaborating with the conquerors of their mutual homeland and the extent to which the US's continued presence in Iraq is exacerbating that perception.

It is unclear to me why we must assume that the US's presence in Iraq is making the situation better. In any case, I'm not an expert on the country and I defer to the opinions of those who are -- lord knows, I don't mean the Lawrence Kaplans of the world, I mean Iraqis. In poll after poll Iraqis express the opinion that their welfare would be better served if the American military would leave their country and they are generally supportive of the insurgency. These were the findings of the British poll and also the recent study done by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland. The PIPA survey found that 87% of Iraqis want the government to endorse a timeline for US withdrawal, that 70% of Iraqis would like the US to withdraw either within 6 months or within 2 years, and that 47% of Iraqis approve of the "attacks on US-led forces in Iraq".

But I'm sure Lawrence Kaplan knows best; after all, he's been to Iraq a couple of times.

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