Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The Solipsistic Left

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  • Neil Morrison,

    Initially we were discussing the position of women and gays and how it's not good now. Now, I think that a large part of the reason for that is the increased prominence of religious conservatism which is actually a part of the dynamics of Iraqi culture. Sistani is conservative not because of the US. He is not powerful because of the US.

    But I agree that there is an ugly paradox - the invasion has seen a rise in fundamentalism when it was supposed to see the end of an authoritarian regime. If I were to go back 5 years and ask myself the question "Is it worth letting Saddam remain in power because of the threat of the religious clerics" I might possibly have said "yes". I might also have given up on humanity all together. I have never, before now at least, gone along with the Kissinger-like view that a dictatorship might be better than the consequences allowing people to vote.

    But I do think it is worth considering my view that however Saddam went the conservative clerics would have got more power. Maybe that is good enough reason to oppose the invasion, but since we might have had to support Iraqi secularists in any case the main issue now is how to do that.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    The US has no objections to such things in Saudi Arabia for instance. It's not like they US is actively supporting a democratic movement there or anything.

    they are however supporting the free movement of large 4x4s.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2026 posts Report Reply

  • Sonic,

    "they are however supporting the free movement of large 4x4s."

    That's in the constitution Che, beside the arming bears bit.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 102 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    The invasion isn't responsible for the conservative religious elements. They would have gained prominance whatever the manner of Saddam's demise. The Shi'ite religious leadership is powerful and conservative, had they overthrown Saddam on their own we would be seeing the same threat from conservative religion. To blame this on the US is absurd.

    The clerics in Iraq were/are powerful and would have been a factor in any post-Saddam environment. But Iraq used to have a large, secular educated middle class that could have acted as a check against the power of the clerics. These people have almost all been killed or fled the country, a catastrophe that could have been prevented if the US had deigned to provide security in Iraq after the fall of Saddam instead of standing by and insisting that 'stuff happens'.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 902 posts Report Reply

  • Sonic,

    Cohen et al position on Iraq reminds me of this cartoon

    http://static.flickr.com/77/176773927_6defdfb686.jpg?v=0

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 102 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    These people have almost all been killed or fled the country

    True to an extent but there's still a sizable secular opposition to the encroachment of fundamentalism. One disadvantage they had was having no preexisting organisational structure. The only secular structure was the Ba'ath Party. On the other hand the Shiite leadership had the full array of their religious institutions at the disposal for political organisation. So Sistani got to be the major player.

    a catastrophe that could have been prevented if the US had deigned to provide security

    A bit unfair, the US didn't see, but should have and planned for, the insurgency coming but when it did it did fight back but had too few troops. I'm in two minds about whether more US troops could have prevented the cycle of Sunni/Shiite violence - both sides seem pretty determined to seek revenge or hold on to power. Maybe or maybe that's what was going to happen when the Ba'ath Party lost power and it would have been better not to have US troops there at all.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Riddley Walker,

    here's an oldie but a goodie from Vanity Fair 2000 on some harmless good ol'boy unknown plonker presidential candidate called George W. if only they'd know, what...

    http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2000/10/bush200010

    AKL • Since Feb 2007 • 890 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    A bit unfair, the US didn't see, but should have and planned for, the insurgency coming

    That's a little unfair too...at least one person saw it coming...

    But in his 1992 remarks in Seattle, Cheney foreshadowed a future in Iraq that is remarkably close to conditions found there today, suggesting that it would be difficult to bring the country's various political factions together and that U.S. troops would be vulnerable to insurrection and guerrilla attacks.

    "Now what kind of government are you going to establish? Is it going to be a Kurdish government, or a Shi'ia government, or a Sunni government, or maybe a government based on the old Baathist Party, or some mixture thereof? You will have, I think by that time, lost the support of the Arab coalition that was so crucial to our operations over there," he said.

    The end result, Cheney said in 1992, would be a messy, dangerous situation requiring a long-term presence by U.S. forces.

    "I would guess if we had gone in there, I would still have forces in Baghdad today, we'd be running the country. We would not have been able to get everybody out and bring everybody home," Cheney said, 18 months after the war ended.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3208 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    ah. that would be the cheney who suggested cutting and running after they destroyed saddams entire army?

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2026 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Austin,

    Che, are you familar with the bizarro explanation of historical flipflops?

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 894 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    As someone said a year or two back, getting a lecture on war from Cheney is like getting dating advice from Michael Jackson

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3208 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    __These people have almost all been killed or fled the country__

    True to an extent but there's still a sizable secular opposition to the encroachment of fundamentalism.

    That would be nice, but I'm not sure it's true. This is from a History News Network article called 'The Death of Iraq's Middle Class' earlier this year, by a professor who had held great hopes in 2003:

    Iraq's middle class is fleeing at such rapid rate that over 40 percent has left since 2003. Add this to torrent a slow trickle of Iraq's educated classes from the 1970s forward and we've reached a point where virtually everyone who could leave has left or fled to Kurdistan. For all intents and purposes, Iraq's middle class is near death and what is left is just a pale shadow of its former self. It has ceased to be a relevant feature of Iraqi society.

    In Iraq, the loss of this class means the loss of the basis of civil society and the disappearance of those Iraqis who would be committed to a non-sectarian form of politics.

    http://hnn.us/articles/34133.html

    This is not what we were promised.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18969 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    are you familar with the bizarro explanation of historical flipflops?

    that episode of seinfeld was piss-funny.

    and mj has a bunch of kids. all of them are destined to be as fcked as he is. so yes, i take the point.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2026 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    This commentary from The New Republic addresses the they'd-have-been-at-their-throats-anyway argument:

    But, if Iraqi nationalism was weaker on the day we invaded than it had been two decades before, it was still quite strong. As Kenneth Pollack has noted, when the National Democratic Institute asked Iraqi focus groups in the summer of 2003 which identity suited them best, a large majority eschewed Shia, Sunni, or Kurd in favor of Iraqi. "Iraq is not the Balkans," insisted Phebe Marr, author of The Modern History of Iraq, in April 2003. "There really isn't traditional enmity or hostility between Sunni and Shiite communities."

    Then the United States overthrew Saddam's weak, brutal state and replaced it with virtually no state at all. In poll after poll, Iraqis said they were happy Saddam was gone but terrified at the lack of security. A Zogby survey in August 2003 found that almost 30 percent of Iraqis had friends or family killed in the war or its anarchic aftermath. Basic services like water and electricity remained scarce as the U.S. reconstruction effort foundered because of corruption and lack of security. Unemployment hit 50 percent.

    In this dismal, often Hobbesian environment, those Iraqis who could (the more secular middle class) fled. Among those who remained, sectarian entrepreneurs like Moqtada Al Sadr leveraged their preexisting networks to provide services, jobs, safety, and--increasingly--revenge. As sectarian militias offered the protection that the state could not, sect began replacing nation as the primary identity of many Iraqis. That shouldn't surprise us. Identity is not static, and, in war zones, as anyone who followed Sarajevo in the '90s can attest, it can shift very fast. "Once Iraqis are safely ... settled in Amman," notes Iraqi-born scholar Hala Fattah, "bonds of civility [between Sunni and Shia] reemerge."

    It may be too late for the United States to provide the security required for those bonds of civility to return to Iraq. But we should, at least, have the decency to acknowledge that it was Americans (not Iraqis) who bore the responsibility under international law to provide security after Americans (not Iraqis) overthrew Saddam. It was we who failed and then handed Iraqi politicians the poisoned chalice of a government that did not sit atop a state. To be sure, Iraq's elected leaders are an uninspiring bunch. But the state fell, the army was disbanded, chaos reigned, the insurgency began, reconstruction faltered, and the die was cast in 2003-- before Iraqis first went to the polls.

    This view is frequently borne out by Iraqi bloggers: this degree of sectarian violence, or even sectarian hatred, is unfamiliar to them.

    Neil, you asked what else could have been done. Well, if you were bent on forcible regime change, playing a longer game with better knowledge would have helped.

    The hubris and incompetence that saw the Pentagon sideline the State Department (to the cheerleading of massed unthinking winger blogs), then fail to protect civil infrastructure or provide even a modest degree of continuity was criminal. Ministries were looted and burned, the army was dismissed. The fools who moved in to take control couldn't even account for the billions of dollars of Iraqi money they were handing out.

    And guess what? That was the plan. This was the "creative destruction" the neocon leisurecrats were urging. They really thought they could wipe it all away and start fresh with a client economy.

    Even if the Iraqis can dig themselves out of this in the end, history will regard these events as a grotesque indulgence of an ideological strain defined by its insensibility to reality.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18969 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    this degree of sectarian violence, or even sectarian hatred, is unfamiliar to them.

    That's because Saddam had ruthlessly suppressed his opponents. There was sectarian violence - against the Kurds and Shiites. The guards that so dismally taunted Saddam at his execution did so because they were Shiites and their community has suffered greatly under Saddam.

    The notion there is no history as to why Sunnis are bombing markets and Shiites have formed death squads does not make sense. Saddam's regime was Sunni based - elements of them are fighting for the power they lost. The Shiites were persecuted by Saddam and now are settling scores and making sure they are never subjugated again.

    I did say that possibly having more troops might have limited this, I'm not not faulting the US, but I did not notice "More Troops" being a prominent anti-war slogan. But there's a tendency to see Iraq through US actions and forget that it's a society with its own dynamics and the trouble between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds goes back hundreds of years.

    And I've said I don't have any great alternatives and for those who opposed the war to put some forward for scrutiny. If you are saying you would have supported a better planed war then I would agree with that.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    The notion there is no history as to why Sunnis are bombing markets and Shiites have formed death squads does not make sense.

    It certainly doesn't, which is probably why no-one here seems to have advocated it. Citing Saddam's ruthlessness-on-stilts for the umpteenth time doesn't in any way absolve the US from having perpetrated a monumental blunder.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3557 posts Report Reply

  • Terence Wood,

    Speaking of Harry's Place - or, at least, I mentioned them up thread - Sonic, this stuff must be rather old hat to you now - no? ;)

    Since Nov 2006 • 148 posts Report Reply

  • Terence Wood,

    Neil,

    A two and a half hour drive and a ferry journey later:

    You mentioned the problem of the suffering caused by the sanctions, but this was already much diminished under the smart sanctions programme. Moreover, in my opinion, sanctions could have been further lifted (carefully and in a targeted manner). If combined with a continued rigorous inspections regime it would have been possible to do this and prevent SH from developing WMDs.

    As for Harold Pinter, the guys a great play write but his politics are batty, and hardly representative of the left - thankfully. He was a prominent signatory to the free Milosovich petition!*%!?!

    Since Nov 2006 • 148 posts Report Reply

  • Juha Saarinen,

    "This view is frequently borne out by Iraqi bloggers: this degree of sectarian violence, or even sectarian hatred, is unfamiliar to them."

    Maybe it was Saddam's dictatorship controlling all the information channels, or maybe said Iraqi bloggers didn't want to know, but sectarian violence and even genocide is not new to Iraq.

    We just didn't care about it back then.

    Since Nov 2006 • 525 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    doesn't that hrw article point out that the worst atrocities were after the gulf war? when they were encouraged by bush senior to rise up, but were then provided little to no material support?

    it also points out that they were singled out as shia. which lends itself to the "sectarian violence was always bad, now it is worse" argument

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2026 posts Report Reply

  • Juha Saarinen,

    Humm, Che... that's not really material to the point, is it?

    "The fate of the Shi'a as a target of government repression was sealed following the February 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. The Iraqi government, motivated by fears that revolution in Iran would spur its own Shi'a population to revolt, lost no time in mounting a repressive campaign.

    At the end of 1979 and in early 1980, thousands of people were arrested in various towns and cities in central and southern Iraq, apparently on suspicion of supporting the Islamic revolution or for having links with the new regime in Iran. Many of these persons have since "disappeared" in custody and remain unaccounted for.

    Others died under torture or were executed."

    I don't doubt for a second that the US is more than willing to exploit sectarian tensions in Iraq, but let's not pretend they didn't exist until after the Gulf War.

    Since Nov 2006 • 525 posts Report Reply

  • James Bremner,

    RB,

    http://www.opinion.co.uk/Newsroom_details.aspx?NewsId=67

    Here is an opinion poll of some 5,000 Iraqis conducted during Feb 2007 that shows only 26% preferred life under Saddam, and that includes only 51% of Sunnis. That number is obviosuly a bit low as a lot of Sunnis have fled, but it is still amazing that after all the problems in Iraq since April 2003, that only a a quarter would want Saddam back.

    So Russell, maybe your view that life in Iraq was better under Saddam is not such a "FACT", after all?

    Also interesting to note is that only 27% of Iraqis think that Iraq is in a civil war. Perhaps NBC, NYT, CNN etc should have asked Iraqis whether Iraq is in the middle of a civil war before they endlessly repeat it as fact.

    Also, a majority of Shias as well as Sunnis think that Iraq should stay one country.

    http://iraqthemodel.blogspot.com/

    You also linked to an Iraqi blogger than had a very pessismistic view of things, Iraq the Model has a bit of a different take.

    If you don't agree that Iraqi women have it better now than under Saddam, how about women in Afghanistan? While things are far from perfect in Afghanistan, do you honestly think that life was better for them under the Taliban?

    Although the survey doesn't specifically address the issue of women's right, the Oct 2006 survey linked to below shows Afghans to be fairly optimistic about the present and future.

    http://www.asiafoundation.org/pdf/AG-survey06.pdf

    NOLA • Since Nov 2006 • 341 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    You know you're doing something wrong when a poll showing that 1/4 of the country wants their mass-murdering dictator back in power is seen as good news . . .

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 902 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    You also linked to an Iraqi blogger than had a very pessismistic view of things, Iraq the Model has a bit of a different take.

    Maybe Riverbends view of the life of women in Iraq is different from Omars because . . . she's a women. I'm a little wary of River however - I think a case could be made that her family were senior Baath party members so she may have something of an axe to grind.

    As for Iraq the Model I'd be willing to bet money that in thirty years time government archives will show that the whole damn thing is being written by a couple of CIA analysts in Virginia. As far as Omar is concerned there is no insurgency, no sectarian violence and no civil war - just lot's and lot's of rascally Al Qaeda terrorists up to their old tricks.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 902 posts Report Reply

  • James Bremner,

    Danyl,

    It must be something to do with human nature, I have read that there are not insignificant percentages of both Russian and Chinese people who yearn for the days of Stalin and Mao, despite the 10s of millions of deaths for which they were responsible. Maybe they are the people who missed or got left behind with the changes, or maybe they liked the feeling of strength and certainty they got from those leaders, so it doesn't surprise me that a good number of Sunnis would like Saddam to still be around. However you probably wont get too many takers in Shia or Kurd areas for a continuation of Saddam rule.

    Riverbend sure does seem like one pissed off person, it is a bit hard to know how to take her postings. However, there are plenty of other Iraqi blogs, both pessimistic and optimistic that show that the belief that life in Iraq now is worse than under Saddam is an opinion, not a "FACT".

    NOLA • Since Nov 2006 • 341 posts Report Reply

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