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November 21, 2006


People (other than Michael Williams): Consider how much easier and more pleasant it is to answer questions than to leap to conclusions about people's motives in asking them.

Ahem. Just saying.

OK, down from soapbox.

Michael W: to add to what others have said, my impression (from reading on Iraq, but alas which of the many books that have come out recently I don't know -- Packer, maybe?) is that at least some level of Sunni identification comes from the fact that with the country they knew gone, people were casting around for something to identify with, and religion was, for a considerable number of them, the thing they latched onto. (Less true for the Shi'a, since they had never really been able to identify with Saddam's government to start with, so were less psychologically adrift than the Sunnis.)

Mainly, though, I think that while individual Iraqis made the decision to take up arms against one another, for which they are of course responsible, we made the decision to topple their government, and then did not make the decision to make any serious provision for providing security in the aftermath. Since the possibility of civil strife, sectarian or otherwise, wasn't exactly unforeseeable, I think we bear some responsibility for not having taken even the most elementary steps to prevent its getting out of control.

And about 'functional': I suspect we're about to get into a debate about whether (a) a society counts as 'functional' if, say, the trains run on time, the laws are enforced, etc., regardless of the nature of the laws or the government, or (b) the laws and government, if sufficiently horrible, automatically make a government less functional.

I think Iraq was functional in the first sense, but not in the second. Then again, so was Nazi Germany.

Hilzoy: I think Iraq was functional in the first sense, but not in the second. Then again, so was Nazi Germany.

I wrote: for kicking apart a functioning society and turning it into a failed state.

I think the distinction's quite clear if you look at - for example - how it was to live in Iraq before the US invaded, and how after: or how it was to live in Afghanistan during the years 1988-1995 (or now, unless you happen to live in Kabul). Or the difference between living in Kampala or living in Darfur.

Nazi Germany was "functioning" for people who lived there who weren't Jewish, gypsies, disabled in a way that scientists at the time deemed to be heritable, lesbian/gay, trade union members, Communists, women who resisted their Nazi role of Kinder, kuche und kirke, or dissidents/resisters.

Iraq was "functioning" for people whom Saddam Hussein/his police did not identify as dissidents/resisters.

I probably shouldn't be trying to express this pre-coffee, but IMO what made Nazi Germany a non-functional society was that it was - if you fell into a pre-determined category - impossible to survive there by keeping your head down and going along with the government's laws. For society to count as functional, in my view, it ought to be possible for someone who "doesn't want trouble" just to keep their head down and get on with their ordinary work and family life and express no opinion about what the government is doing.

This leaves conscience completely out of the equation, of course, which I find painful to do, but nevertheless: if you are allowed to escape imprisonment/death by obeying the law/the judiciary system, then the society is functioning, even if the laws are unjust and unfair. (South Africa, in the 1980s, for example: a functioning society, albeit a horrifyingly unjust one.) But if you were a Jew or a gypsy or a gay man or a lesbian in Nazi Germany, you could not escape imprisonment/death by obeying the law, because the law required that you should die.

Insofar as Saddam Hussein considered himself to be above the law, and able to do anything he liked to anyone in Iraq without the semblance of justice, Iraq was not functioning: but, on a smaller scale, the same now applies to the US, since the new law in the US is now that anyone whom George W. Bush declares to be an "enemy combatant" may be imprisoned and tortured without any semblance of justice.

But a country with no law or system of government at all is not functioning - not by any definition. And, from things you have said earlier, Hilzoy, I am quite certain that you understand the difference.

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