2004/12/23

Thomas Friedman's latest

Interesting column by Thomas Friedman of the NY Times. Wildly misinformed of course and unbelievably arrogant in its presumptions, but interesting.



There has been so much violence in Iraq that it's become hard to distinguish one senseless act from another. But there was a picture that ran on the front page of this newspaper on Monday that really got to me. It showed several Iraqi gunmen, in broad daylight and without masks, murdering two Iraqi election workers. The murder scene was a busy street in the heart of Baghdad. The two election workers had been dragged from their car into the middle of the street. They looked young, the sort of young people you'd see doing election canvassing in America or Ukraine or El Salvador.

One was kneeling with his arms behind his back, waiting to be shot in the head. Another was lying on his side. The gunman had either just pumped a bullet into him or was about to. I first saw the picture on the Internet, and I did something I've never done before - I blew it up so it covered my whole screen. I wanted to look at it more closely. You don't often get to see the face of pure evil.



That's not what I saw. I saw a picture and read descriptions of a busy city street where nobody stopped to help the election workers. Where the young men with AK-47s didn't have the slightest concern that someone might see them and drop a dime on them to the Iraqi police or to the American Army. This was a killing that was supported by the population. This was a killing where the Iraqis around it thought to themselves “Ah, some collaborators with the occupation are receiving their proper punishments.” It probably made a lot of people's days to see that.



There is much to dislike about this war in Iraq, but there is no denying the stakes. And that picture really framed them: this is a war between some people in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world who - for the first time ever in their region - are trying to organize an election to choose their own leaders and write their own constitution versus all the forces arrayed against them.



This is a very pretty picture of hard-working and earnest folks who just want the best for their country. Unfortunately, it's also complete fantasy. The upcoming elections are not free by any stretch of the imagination. These are elections that will take place under foreign occupation. “people in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world” have nothing to do with these elections. The Americans, the guys who invaded Iraq under the pretense of looking for WMD that they knew full well didn't exist, are the ones who are trying to organize the election. Iraqi citizens are not fooled. Back in late August 2003, we read the following statement from the AP:

Iraqis will be free to form their own government as long as it is not an Iranian-style theocracy, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday.


In other words, sure, Iraqis can have freedom, as long as, of course, it's a type and variety of freedom that the US approves of. They have to clear it through their supervisors in Washington DC first. The condition may sound reasonable to Americans as the idea of a theocracy conjures up horrible images of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson running things, but Ayatollahs have run Iran for the past 20+ years in neighboring Iran and while the Taliban of Afghanistan has a great many detractors worldwide, they are still a significant political force in their country. The Administration is very anxious for Americans to believe that Iran is bubbling over with the desire to toss off the yoke of theocracy and to adopt capitalism/democracy, but they appear to be really stretching and making unwarranted assumptions to make that point. There doesn't appear to be much evidence that there's any revolutionary ferment in Iran.

Sorry, but no one on the face of the Earth defines that as “freedom”.

Note the identity of Friedman's sole source for how the Iraqis feel about anything and what the insurgents stand for:



As the Johns Hopkins foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum so rightly pointed out to me, "These so-called insurgents in Iraq are the real fascists, the real colonialists, the real imperialists of our age."



Sounds like a knowledgable, objective source, eh? How seriously can we take the academic credentials of someone (Notice he's not called a professor, merely an expert.) from John Hopkins? From the BBC:

Just across the street is another academic institution, the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, which was headed by the leading Pentagon hawk, Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

Which means the expert Friedman cited works directly for the number two man at the Defense Department. Juan Cole, a noted professor of history (Note: an actual academic) at the University of Michigan and who writes frequently enough on Mideast affairs to have his own blog, never uses such overheated terminology. Cole quotes some polling data that gives us much better insight into how Iraqis see the US:



On Balance, do you think of the Americans mostly as Occupiers or liberators?

Occupiers: 71 %
Liberators 19%

(43% reported that in April 2003, they had thought of the Americans as liberators).

How have the US Forces Conducted themselves?

58% said "fairly badly" or "very badly."

Asked if the US was serious about establishing democracy in Iraq:

50% said "no."
12% said "don't know."

Asked if attacks on US troops could be justified,

52% said "sometimes," "somewhat," or "completely."


The United States had an unfavorability rating of

54%

(and there wasn't a significant difference between the Shiites and the Sunni Arabs).

Only 31% favored a separation of mosque and state! (But 66% of Kurds did).

Only 30% of the Arab population favored a multiparty parliamentary democracy!


So, when Friedman claims that:



Do not be fooled into thinking that the Iraqi gunmen in this picture are really defending their country and have no alternative. The Sunni-Baathist minority that ruled Iraq for so many years has been invited, indeed begged, to join in this election and to share in the design and wealth of post-Saddam Iraq.



If the gunmen think they are defending their country, isn't it supremely arrogant to say that they're not? Remember, they are the natives, the Coalition of the Willing contains very little besides invading foreigners. Where does some foreigner 6000 miles away who has dropped in on an every-now-and-then basis get the right to define who the true patriots are? If the “Sunni-Baathist minority” is suspicious of American motives and does not desire to take part in American-arranged elections, why does some American editorial writer get to declare that they aren't truly concerned about Iraq's future? As far as wealth is concerned, when Iraqis see oil trucks and pipelines carrying oil to the gulf to be shipped overseas, they view it as Americans stealing the natural resources that belong to them.



However this war started, however badly it has been managed, however much you wish we were not there, do not kid yourself that this is not what it is about: people who want to hold a free and fair election to determine their own future, opposed by a virulent nihilistic minority that wants to prevent that. That is all that the insurgents stand for.



Again, it takes a staggeringly immense amount of chutzpah to say what the insurgents stand for. The “nihilistic” label is not backed up by any sort of evidence. It's simply slapped on as an insult. It matters a great deal “However this was started”, why wouldn't it? Say, for instance, Canada invaded and occupied Detroit and then insisted on holding elections after a brutal occupation in which somewhere up to 100,000 Americans had perished and after a former president had been put on trial. Of course the origins of the war would matter!

It might be entirely true that if the Iraqi resistance takes over, that there will not be free and fair elections. That's pure conjecture. It's an insult to say that there is a people anywhere on Earth that is opposed to determining its' own future. Democracy is certainly a treasured thing, but many, many nations throughout history have longed for a “man on horseback” who is willing to “get tough” to restore order. The columnist goes on to make further baseless conjectures without evidence.



We may actually lose in Iraq...We may lose because of the defiantly wrong way that Donald Rumsfeld has managed this war and the cynical manner in which Dick Cheney, George Bush and - with some honorable exceptions - the whole Republican right have tolerated it.

Yup.



We may lose because our Arab allies won't lift a finger to support an election in Iraq



Why on Earth would they? What could they possibly gain from having the world's only superpower having a hammerlock on the world's oil supplies? How would that benefit anyone other than the people who run the US?

There's just so much wishful thinking here it's ridiculous. Friedman considers the US as a party that's genuinely there to do good and to be fair to all parties. That may be true for the lower-ranking people, but it's ridiculous to apply such starry-eyed willful optimism to the Bush Administration.

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