Friday, September 23, 2005

"Caricature Has Been Vindicated by History" 

Ian McEwan's extended ruminations on 9/11, written in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, were among the most extraordinary documents we have ever had the good fortune to read -- outraged, cool-eyed, humane, clinical, numinous. We can pay our learned colleague Roger Gathman no higher compliment than to say his recent writings on another catastrophe, the destruction of New Orleans, have consistently reminded us of McEwan's, and if you have not been reading him on a regular basis we urge you to visit the Limited, Inc. archives (here and here) at the first opportunity; your attention will be amply rewarded.

Today, however, Mr. Gathman's topic is Iraq:
What did Iraq need after the invasion? Two things were necessary: to confront the political legacy of Saddam, and to confront the economic legacy of Saddam. The former task consisted in reconfiguring the country in such a way that the mechanisms of Ba’athist tyranny would be permanently disabled. The latter task consisted, quite simply, in gaining a moratorium on the debt Saddam had piled up.

The former task could only be achieved by the Iraqis themselves, not the Americans. The latter task did require American cooperation. The tasks were coupled: a legitimate political establishment in Iraq needed to be unencumbered by Saddam’s debt in order to borrow money on Iraq’s vast potential wealth. In essence, this task was no different than the task of any other Middle Eastern nation – for instance, Kuwait at the end of the first Gulf War.

The tasks are such that the withdrawal of American troops should have been accomplished, max, by the end of 2003.

From the American anti-war perspective, that would have been unpleasant, since it would have generated the image of a successful intervention/invasion. But however unpleasant the invasion might have been as a precedent, there was, realistically, no need for the occupation and the American intervention in Iraq’s sovereign affairs whatsoever, beyond that minimal framework.

There are a lot of ironies here. Given the successful attainment of that framework, the Bush administration might well have gone on to their second goal, war with Iran. In this very unfunny sense, the occupation has had the funny effect of making that goal almost unimaginable. It was hard to see this in 2003, because it was hard to see that the Bush people were exactly the warmongering criminals the left made them out to be. Caricature has been vindicated by history. However, the Iraqis have borne the burden of averting the real disaster of a U.S.-Iran war. Lately, the media has decided to respond to the fact that the war is unpopular in this country (and will be extremely hard to finance, come the next supplemental) by posing the rhetorical question, don’t we have the moral responsibility to remain in Iraq? This is a sort of cruel joke question. It is as if Cortes were to justify the conquest of Mexico by saying, don’t we have a responsibility to the Aztecs to remain in Mexico? The answer to the media’s new concern with our moral obligation is that an occupying force that makes promiscuous use of air power on its occupied territory, razes cities Grozny style, and establishes interlocking groups with organized kleptocrats to pump money out of the occupied territory seems to have somehow misread the story of the Good Samaritan. I don’t know how much more American charity Iraq can take . . . .

Hindsight should tell us this: Iraq was able, two years ago, to stand on its own two feet. The American occupation has been aimed at preventing an independent Iraq, not at creating one. The idea of indefinite occupation, ie colonizing Iraq, depended, however, on two factors: that Iraq would eventually be a cash cow, and that the American population would go along with Bush’s plan. The first pillar of the Bush plan has collapsed. The second is collapsing. Iraq is in the hands of Iran’s allies. The cost of continuing the war is unsustainable. Moreover (although the Americans still don’t know this), American has become irrelevant to the ultimate outcome in Iraq. Under the shadow of the American shock troops, the real political fight has been happening, in which the American side is represented by a Kurdish faction – and even that faction is becoming impatient with their ally. Give me more hindsight is the LI slogan.

Let's shed as much light as possible on the the monsters who rule us.

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