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March 09, 2010

Comments

Well I think Beinart's point is that we are supe,rior to the European powers and that our Kiplinesque adventures are supposed to be successful because we are the City on the Hill etc. etc. etc. The worst kind of American exceptionalism. And Iraqis don't count because they aren't Americans.

Why not having a plebiscite in Iraq, whether they would like to become the 51st state? Then the troops would not be occupiers anymore but defenders of the Amiraqan homeland.

What's amazing about this analysis is that Beinart completely ignores and demeans the sovereignty of Iraq

No, really not that amazing. Not at all. All too common, in fact.

And Iraqis don't count because they aren't Americans.

To the Beinarts of the world, every foreigner is an aspiring American. We don't need to spend time carefully analyzing the opinions of the Iraqis, because we already know what they want, which is to be exactly like us -- when they grow up.

Any Iraqi who says otherwise is clearly on the side of evil, and can be ignored.

I agree with you about Iraq, but "One obvious and fundamental lesson would be that colonial rule, aggressive war and alien governance templates imposed from abroad are not conducive to the formation of durable democracies" is an enormous overgeneralization.

South Korea, India, Japan. I suppose you might have quibbles about aggressive war with Japan, but other than that, those 3 offer pretty stark counter-examples.

South Korea, India, Japan. I suppose you might have quibbles about aggressive war with Japan, but other than that, those 3 offer pretty stark counter-examples.

Well, yes, Japan wouldn't count. Nor would South Korea for that matter (not an aggressive war, not a colonial action). So we're left with India vs. the many other examples of not working out. Looks more like an exception than the rule - and my language was not absolute, but qualified ("not conducive to...").

One interesting discussion might be: How do you prepare a society which has never had it for democracy? Because clearly what the British (for example) did was less that a great success.

Just for a starting point, suppose that you take the time to start with elections on a local level. Take a couple of election cycles of having elections for local government. Then a couple more (probably 4-5 more, actually) election cycles of the next level up. And then, IF those went smoothly, you can think about doing elections at the national level.

Not only would that give the population experience in voting. And voting for people who they could see were doing what they wanted -- or voting out those who did not. But it would also provide the beginnings of a cadre of people who are experienced in running an elected government. Part of the problem in the places that the British et al left, is that there wasn't a lot of experience at democratic governance in place.

We must stay in Iraq forever because if we don't we will not be in Iraq forever.

The military has invested epic quantities of money and blood in Iraq, and U.S. commanders don’t want it to be in vain.

So the solution is to invest even more epic quantities of money and blood (interesting ordering choice there Peter) in Iraq. And when those are gone, by God we need to stay so that investment wasn't in vain! Etc. etc. etc., until, VICTORY!

And if that's really what "U.S. commanders" are thinking, someone needs to tell them it's too late, the time for making sure things weren't being done in vain was late 2002 and early 2003. Also this.

THESE COLORS DON'T RUN! USA! USA! USA!

Sorry, I can't hear your wimpy librul arguments over the sound of how awesome we Real Americans are. Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran! Woo!

Dunno about Beinart, but I don't want to completely disregard the possibility of open civil war or mass scale ethnic cleansing - yes, I know a considerable amount has already occurred, but the thing about "cleansing" is that there's always another town just a couple of miles over that still looks pretty "dirty". Those would be really disastrous consequences and would (correctly) be blamed on the US, and we would (correctly) feel some sense of obligation to fix it. So I think it's important not to screw up the withdrawal and that does mean paying attention. On the other hand I'm cautiously optimistic that the election turnout indicates that people are really f--king tired of getting blown up by what are effectively rival gangs arguing over religious interpretation.

The question is whether Iraq as one nation will survive for very long. Yugoslavia sure didn't, and the Kurds are every bit as nationalistic as any of the Yugoslav groups. (And not for no reason... we tend to forget that, when capitalist liberal democracy hasn't yet smooshed out all the ethnic identities into a nice mush seasoned with consumer products, people tend to stick with their own and mistreat anyone identifiably Other. That's the way we're wired.)

Sure, America has midwifed a democracy in Iraq. Yet when British troops left their African, Middle Eastern, and Asian dominions, they left behind many embryonic democracies, too. Most soon collapsed.

Unfortunately for Iraq, most of these failures were due to the unresolved ethnic, sectarian, and cultural divisions in the societies that they had left behind.
I think the special case of India arises from two factors: 1)there was a history of empires in the area, culturally knitting together large parts of what was to become British India and 2)the long period of the Raj meant that the British institutions became an organic part of Indian society (as opposed to much of Africa, where eg a man might have been 20 at the founding of the British protectorate over Nigeria, and still there at 80 to see sovereignty handed over).

Yeah, and even the smashing success that was India saw brutal conflict between Muslims and Hindus (and other religious sects) and other serious problems.

Dunno about Beinart, but I don't want to completely disregard the possibility of open civil war or mass scale ethnic cleansing - yes, I know a considerable amount has already occurred, but the thing about "cleansing" is that there's always another town just a couple of miles over that still looks pretty "dirty". Those would be really disastrous consequences and would (correctly) be blamed on the US, and we would (correctly) feel some sense of obligation to fix it.

I don't discount these possibilities - or the fact that we're on the hook so to speak. I just discount our ability to prevent them - at least if we just keep staying in Iraq for "another 12-18 months." These problems are long term, and our horizon isn't. And our means of preventing violence often involves the use of...well, violence. In the end, dead people everywhere.

Also, we must accept the decisions of the elected Iraqi government. We're not going to fix Iraq's government by perpetuating an illegal occupation. For their own good. Naturally.

No, I totally agree. I think openly speculating about being "forced to stay" is stupid, and that the firm timetable for leaving is a necessary part of leaving the least-worst situation we can.

I just wouldn't be completely surprised if something really terrible started happening and we really did have to change course to prevent it from continuing. That kind of thing happens all the time in post-colonial countries, and generally the former colonial power tends to be the one called on to help, as the party with prior experience in the country and the means to get things done. Preventing violence with violence is a futile exercise in many cases but when the violence you're preventing is genocidal, it's not.

The whole thing sucks. It is a disaster. But I do think (and I'm not saying you disagree) that mere disasterhood does not mean we are justified in getting the f--k out by any means necessary no matter what happens. It was a bad idea to go in but that's a sunk cost now, as they say; we have to start with the status quo and see what makes sense from here. Which does mean getting out, absolutely.

What's interesting is that the British routinely pointed to the divisions between Hindus and Muslims in India as the reasons they had to stay (not because it was in their colonial interest to do so). Always cool to see the same colonialist rationales for permanent empire recycled again and again.

It was a bad idea to go in but that's a sunk cost now, as they say; we have to start with the status quo and see what makes sense from here.

Yeah, I'm just pissed off at all these people running around saying that recent events have shown that the whole Iraq invasion was a good idea and thus they are proven right to invade, yadda yadda yadda, in which case the sunk costs are entirely relevant. That such people are even given prominent platforms to espouse their views is a scandal in and of itself.

I'm not sure I'd give Britain credit for democracy in India. I'd give them credit for economic policies that caused millions of deaths in famines in the late 19th century and again in 1943,but democracy? In fact, Sen uses the famine in 1943 as one example of how famines occur in non-democratic societies. It's just possible that the Indians who agitated for independence might have somehow contrived to bring democracy to India if the British hadn't arrived in the first place. Imagine an alternate universe where European countries had simply been democratic at home and hadn't acquired the urge to dominate others--if anything, that might have made Western ideals which matched actual practice a lot more inspiring. Plus the world might have been spared the Marxist version of anti-imperialism.

"Well, yes, Japan wouldn't count. Nor would South Korea for that matter (not an aggressive war, not a colonial action)."

Why is *aggressive war* a key factor in your analysis? Would you argue, for example that if we had gone into Iraq in 1991 that things would have turned out better? I doubt it, so aggressive war doesn't do anything to your analysis except inappropriately exclude Japan.

And I'm not sure how you're avoiding colonial war in Korea unless you have a super narrow definition of it. In which case I'm not at all sure Iraq qualifies either.

So we're left with India vs. the many other examples of not working out.

How long did the British occupy India? I'll grant you that something good might occur in Iraq if the time scale is measured in centuries.

This leaves Japan as the only outlier. Does it occur to anyone either that

1. The ethnic situation in Iraq is a bit different than that in Japan (or in Korea, for that matter)

2. Japan had already demonstrated an ability to remake itself in response to changed circumstances that's damned near unique in the history of the world.

The military has invested epic quantities of money and blood in Iraq, and U.S. commanders don’t want it to be in vain.

I can't believe there are still people making this same lame argument after all these years... There is literally no way to end to this occupation by that standard.

This ill-conceived war was lost the day we invaded. The criminals who instigated it are just desperate to rationalize the whole corrupt enterprise and avoid the obvious culpability that's hanging over their heads.

Why is *aggressive war* a key factor in your analysis? Would you argue, for example that if we had gone into Iraq in 1991 that things would have turned out better?

Well, it can create a sense of repudiation and remorse in the conquered society if they recognize their prior actions as wrong. Im not as familiar with post-war Japan, but this effect was certainly present in post-war Germany.

But I think a much more important factor is the cohesiveness of the society in question: Japan and Korea had strong national identities. Most of the failures in Africa etc occurred among societies that weren't cohesive, and could only continue via authoritarianism.
Biggest flaw in this theory is that, by categorizing in retrospect we run the risk that the sorts of stresses that cause failed states expose sectarian/ethnic fault lines, rather than being caused by them.

Japan and Korea and Germany had national identities prior to WW2 and in the case of Korea, prior to various occupations.

However, the nation-states carved into Africa and the Middle-East, during European Imperialism, tended to be, either arbitrary or created in the spirit of divide-and-conquer.

So maybe it is an ethnic divisions thing more than any of things we were talking about?

"Although security has dramatically improved, Iraq’s leaders have resolved barely any of the conflicts that nearly tore the country apart a few years back."

I would say this is an accurate assessment of every year in American history.

Having said that, I believe it is time to come home, and to come home from Afghanistan, also. I think we should abandon them to their preferences, having, in one place, provided a long enough window to let them take responsibility, and, in the other, having less responsibility to provide the window.

And Korea was a police-state after their civil war.

The Left, in Korea, had a strong anti-colonial voice during the Cold War.

So maybe it is an ethnic divisions thing more than any of things we were talking about?

I think so; the two biggest factors IMO are 1)religious and/or cultural cohesion and 2)preexisting democratic institutions. Colonial rule is often an exacerbating condition bc occupiers often play one group off against another.

The US had something to offer to (at least Western) Germany after WW2: prosperity and protection from the Soviets. It might have looked pretty different, if there had been no Soviet threat and Washington had decided to auction off all German coalfields to American corporations.

Seb: I think Carleton Wu captured much of what I was thinking - but yes, I do think that Germany and Japan were different in that the preceding conflict did affect the national psyche and acceptance of defeat/reordering of society. But also the level of political infrastructure were much greater - easier to build on.

Even then, we pretty much controlled Japan's and Korea's political life for decades, and heavily manipulated Germany's. So, democracy eventually, belatedly, built on sound political infrastructure after long periods of American stewardship and that after periods of intense, cataclysmic conflict.

Compared to the long and sordid history of nation building/democracy promotion through colonialism/aggressive war and otherwise.

"So, democracy eventually, belatedly, built on sound political infrastructure after long periods of American stewardship and that after periods of intense, cataclysmic conflict."

In your mind what are the important differences between calling what we do in Iraq 'colonialism' and what we did in Japan, and Korea and Germany 'stewardship'?

I think that isn't vitally important. I suspect preexisting ethnic rifts is the key feature, and/or the cataclysmic conflict.

Which probably leads to the same ultimate conclusion in Iraq, but for radically different reasons. It isn't that democracy can't be imposed from without. It can. It isn't that alien governance templates can't be used. It is that it requires cataclysmic conflict, the brutality of a complete defeat, and the willingness to deeply control the government for decades. We weren't interested in any of that in Iraq (which is a good thing), so we shouldn't have gone.

Well, actually, I referred to Iraq as an aggressive war, not colonialism. But it could morph into a colonial exercise depending on the level of exploitation/control.

As for "stewardship" you could call it colonial in a sense, but we were less exploitative than typical colonial relationships. And the attacks/declarations of war from Japan and Germany and the existential conflict changed that.

Iraq was a war of choice - sold on false pretenses without no imminent or even distant threat.

Which probably leads to the same ultimate conclusion in Iraq, but for radically different reasons. It isn't that democracy can't be imposed from without. It can. It isn't that alien governance templates can't be used. It is that it requires cataclysmic conflict, the brutality of a complete defeat, and the willingness to deeply control the government for decades. We weren't interested in any of that in Iraq (which is a good thing), so we shouldn't have gone.

I think there's something to that, but even then, British (and French, Dutch and German) colonial experience outside of India doesn't match up too well.

"Which probably leads to the same ultimate conclusion in Iraq, but for radically different reasons. It isn't that democracy can't be imposed from without. It can. It isn't that alien governance templates can't be used. It is that it requires cataclysmic conflict, the brutality of a complete defeat, and the willingness to deeply control the government for decades..."

Yes. Dean Rusk was just too far ahead of his time.

The flip side of accepting that there will be triumphalism about what we've done in Iraq is that it ought to mean we can be quite uncompromising about the schedule for gettin out, and that we need accept no handwringing from "liberlas" like Beinart. We went there, we fucked it up, we fixed it enough to avoid leaving humiliated, we set up an agreement on getting out. Let's proceed on plan.

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