War’s Critics Display Low Opinions of Iraqis

Najaf

and Falluja are the open sores on the body of

Iraq. Najaf is the base of radical

Shiites, Falluja of former Baathists; one is the hotbed of aspiring tyrants,

the other of unemployed tyrants. Tyranny on its way up or down is a volatile

state, and we have the task, unlovely and unloved, of dealing with it.

The

news poses the questions: What do Iraqis want? What, prudently, can we do about

it?

Michael

Moore thinks highly of the Iraqis in arms, since he has compared them to the

Minutemen (“They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will

grow-and they will win”), though his enthusiasm may be opportunistic, based on

nothing more than the fact that they are fighting the Bush administration. The

majority of Americans who dislike the liberation of

Iraq seem to be guided by a low view of Iraqis.

Iraqis, according to the low view, do not want freedom as we understand it; if

they do, they are incapable of sustaining it; and any American policy that

ignores their desires and their shortcomings is sheer hubris.

Doubts

about Iraqis come in three flavors. One springs from left-wing diversity

theory. Half a century ago, Lionel Trilling wrote of “the anthropological view,

the perception that another man’s idea of virtue and honor may be different

from one’s own but quite to be respected.” In the years since, the

anthropological view has swollen into academic dogma, its modern apostle being

the late Edward Said, who held that all Western attempts to study Arab or

Muslim societies were corrupted by an insidious disposition to dominate them.

Since we cannot touch anything without destroying it, we should keep our hands

off. The boots-on-the-ground corollary is that when dictators or theocrats

arise among the world’s people of color, we should back off.

The

right-wing has its own diversity theory. Trilling’s quotation comes from an

essay on Rudyard Kipling, and the British Empire at the time of the Diamond

Jubilee offered a practical example of the anthropological view in action,

suited to the Anglophilia of so many modern American conservatives. Queen Victoria was the

sovereign of a parliamentary democracy, a form mimicked in her English-speaking

dominions overseas and transplanted, with modifications, to the one that got

away (us). But her vast empire also teemed with native states-emirates,

sultanates, petty principalities of every name and shape-which governed

themselves according to local custom, so long as they forswore the grossest

local customs, like widow-burning. So order of a sort was maintained over a

quarter of the globe, and who could say that was a bad thing? When imperialism

began to die away because of changing ideas and increasing expense, it

bequeathed to the world a comic residue, in the form of the African novels of

Evelyn Waugh. Scoop and Black Mischief showed what happened when

rash folk tried to rouse the natives from their primeval ways: All hell broke

loose. The moral for conservatives: Leave ill enough alone, in Iraq and

everywhere else.

The

third source of the low view of Iraqis is Realpolitik :

the concern of functionaries, and the pundits who love them, to keep the lid

on. The general ideal is the clean desk and the empty in-box. This happy state

never arrives, because messy humanity is always generating problems. But to

keep our problems as few and as distant as possible, we should always prefer

stasis to movement, calm to upheaval and strong men (if well-disposed) to mobs.

Before 1990, the Reagan administration and the first Bush administration,

guided by Realpolitik , tacitly

supported Saddam Hussein as the lesser of two evils, a firewall against the

Shiite hordes that threatened to sweep into the Arab world from Iran and jack

oil prices to the ozone layer.

According

to all these ways of looking at the world, we should not meddle abroad, even

when people are manifestly oppressed. We either ask, with Pilate, what is

truth, or say, like an accountant, that action will be costly. Recent events,

however-especially 9/11-force us to re-examine these premises.

Middle

Eastern Realpolitik has blown up

spectacularly. Saddam Hussein came to think of himself as Saladin, and invaded Kuwait in 1990.

His career as an unguided missile lasted 13 more years. Saudi Arabia,

another ostensibly friendly despotism, produced 15 of the 19 mass murderers of

9/11. Saudi efforts to clean up terror sympathizers at home have been spastic,

while their efforts to defund the America-hating religious schools they sponsor

worldwide have been nil. Left-wing diversity is a moral, rather than a

practical, failure. Its exponents see Islamic terrorism as a force to be

understood or negotiated with, or they harp on the ignorance, the cowboyism and

the Judeo-Christianity of the Bush-men who are trying to cope with it.

Right-wing diversity, if it was ever accurate, is not accurate now, for the

world has changed. There are no traditionalist pockets untouched by aspiration

or by media. More and more, everyone in the world wants self-esteem; less and

less, everyone gets it from the kinship group and village customs. For the

missing extra jolt, they turn to totalist simplifying ideologies, or they begin

the long slog into modernity.

No

one should be surprised that the struggle is hard or that progress is fitful. Germany threw up Karl Marx and Hitler on its

chrysalis emergence from a traditional society;

France threw up the guillotine and

Sartre. And how well did the United

States, with our sober Founding Fathers, do?

We had the Bill of Rights, but we also had slavery, and some of us argued that

the latter was a good thing.

The

stakes for us can be studied by anyone who takes the R train to Cortlandt Street.

The big hole is finally beginning to be filled. But we live with the knowledge

that others may appear. Vigilance is our first line of defense; proactive war

is our second. But the example of another way in an oppressed, bigoted part of

the world must be our third. Law and order, a free press, freedom of

conscience, freedom for women who want to show their hair-it isn’t much, and it

will be bloody establishing that little. But

Iraq’s happiness, and our safety,

depends on it.

War’s Critics Display Low Opinions of Iraqis