August 21, 2003

Blaming America First

Jessica Stern in the New York Times says every problem in Iraq is our fault.

Yesterday's bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad was the latest evidence that America has taken a country that was not a terrorist threat and turned it into one.
Ah, yes. Here we go again. Baathist or Islamist terrorists kill UN humanitarian workers, and it’s America’s fault. We made them do it. Everything is our fault, from hot weather in France to terrorism in the Middle East. Sigh. Big sigh.

Not to mention the fact that Saddam Hussein was the patron and armorer of international terrorists long before we got there. And the fact that he is no longer means Iraq is less of a terrorist threat than it was. At least the threat is different. It certainly isn’t brand new.

Also, for the most part, terrorists in Iraq and those who sneak in from elsewhere now resort to impaling themselves on American soldiers rather than on civilians. That is exactly what we should want.

Of course, we should be glad that the Iraq war was swifter than even its proponents had expected, and that a vicious tyrant was removed from power.
At least she gets that much right.
But
There is always a “but”
the aftermath has been another story. America has created — not through malevolence but through negligence — precisely the situation the Bush administration has described as a breeding ground for terrorists: a state unable to control its borders or provide for its citizens' rudimentary needs.
See. Again. We created the miserable state of Iraq. Not Saddam. Not the Baath Party. We did that. Says she.
As the administration made clear in its national security strategy released last September, weak states are as threatening to American security as strong ones.
True enough, again.
Yet its inability to get basic services and legitimate governments up and running in post-war Afghanistan and Iraq — and its pursuant reluctance to see a connection between those failures and escalating anti-American violence — leave one wondering if it read its own report.
Obviously there is a connection between anti-American violence and the failure to get services up and running. The Baathists keep cutting the power lines. And, not coincidentally, they are the same people who kill American soldiers. Anyone who watches the news or reads the paper knows this, but she thinks the Administration doesn’t know it? Please.
For example, the American commander in Iraq, Gen. John Abizaid, has described the almost daily attacks on his troops as guerrilla campaigns carried out by Baathist remnants with little public support. Yet an increasing number of Iraqis disagree: they believe that the attacks are being carried out by organized forces — motivated by nationalism, Islam and revenge — that feed off public unhappiness.

According to a survey this month by the Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies, nearly half of the Iraqis polled attribute the violence to provocation by American forces or resistance to the occupation (even more worrisome, the Arabic word for "resistance" used in the poll implies a certain amount of sympathy for the perpetrators). In the towns of Ramadi and Falluja, where many of the recent attacks have taken place, nearly 90 percent of respondents attributed the attacks to these causes.

A quick Google search reveals that the towns of Ramadi and Falluja are in the small Sunni triangle, the hotbed region of Baath Party support. A poll from these towns does not in any way represent Iraqi opinion. It took me literally fifteen seconds of Internet research to figure this out. Readers of the New York Times deserve better thinking and reporting than this.

It is noteworthy that writers who like to dwell on America’s supposed failures do not mention public opinion in northern Iraqi Kurdistan where the vast majority of the population supports America to the hilt.

Why would ordinary Iraqis not rush to condemn violence against the soldiers who liberated them from Saddam Hussein? Mustapha Alani, an Iraqi scholar with the Royal United Services Institute in London, gave me a possible explanation: even in the darkest days of the Iran-Iraq war, most Iraqis (other than Kurds and Marsh Arabs) did not have to worry about personal security. They could not speak their minds, but they could count on electricity, water and telephone service for at least part of the day. Today they fear being attacked in their bedrooms; power, water and telephones are routinely unavailable. As Mr. Alani put it, Iraqis today could could care less about democracy, they just want assurance that their daughters won't be raped or their sons kidnapped en route to the grocery store.
The Iraqi regime had an official job description called “Violator of Women’s Honor.” That title no longer exists. And the regime no longer kidnaps anyone on the way to the grocery store. Those who posed the primary threat to the well-being of the Iraqi citizenry have been dramatically weakened by regime-removal. Iraqis may still live in fear, but they live in fear of the very same people who tortured and imprisoned them for decades in the first place. It is not American soldiers who kidnap and rape; it is other Iraqis.

And the reason that ordinary Iraqis do not rush to condemn the terrorist violence is because they fear Saddam will come back, and because “collaborators” have been killed by the Baath Party remnants.

Instead of mentioning any of this, she quotes a person in London who says Iraqis (other than those who were the victims of genocide, as if that’s only a footnote) were previously kept safe and sound by the regime. As if it looked out for their welfare. As if we do not.

Blaming the violence on isolated Baath loyalists was perhaps more plausible when the violence was centered in the Sunni heartland. But the recent riots in the southern Shiite city of Basra, and the sabotage of a major oil pipeline in the Kurdish north, make clear that other regions may not be peaceable indefinitely.
The violence is still centered in the Sunni triangle. Rioting in Basra apparently had little to do with the Baath Party, but it certainly isn’t terrorism. Every country experiences rioting, even the United States.

And so what if a pipeline in the Kurdish north has been sabotoged? If the act was committed by Kurds, it was almost certainly committed by the almost universally loathed Ansar Al Islam, Al Qaeda’s arm in Iraq. It does not mean that we suck. It means there are still enemies, the hated enemies of the people of Iraq, that we need to root out.

Shiites widely supported the operation to remove Saddam Hussein, but they are furious about what they see as American incompetence since the war.
Let them be furious. That does not make them terrorists. They have every right to be furious, and I mean that in both senses of the word “right.” There are problems, and there is cause to be angry. More importantly, they now have a right to be mad. We won’t run steamrollers over them or make them drink gasoline because they’re upset. Nor will we put them in meat grinders or cut out their tongues. Don’t think the Iraqis don’t welcome the right to be angry for once in their lives.
This set the stage for religious extremists.
Come off it. Iraq is an overwhelmingly Muslim country. In the 21st century, that sets the stage for religious extremists. We have plenty of our own religious extremists, and we certainly did not create that impulse from scratch in a Middle Eastern country.

(Skipping ahead, the article is a long one…)

As bad as the situation inside Iraq may be, the effect that the war has had on terrorist recruitment around the globe may be even more worrisome. Even before the coalition troops invaded, a senior [unnamed, -ed.] United States counterterrorism official told reporters that "an American invasion of Iraq is already being used as a recruitment tool by Al Qaeda and other groups.”
Of course this is true, but so what? A primary feature of Al Qaeda’s propaganda before September 11 was that the United States was a paper tiger, that we were weak and would not fight back as the Soviets did in Afghanistan, that defeating us would be easy. You won’t hear that in the recruitment tapes anymore. I'll gladly make that trade.

Her conclusion is more reasonable.

The goal of creating a better Iraq is a noble one, but a first step will be making sure that ordinary Iraqis find America's ideals and assistance more appealing than Al Qaeda's.
But the shoddy thinking throughout is unfortunate. Terrorism is blamed on America. Religious extremism is blamed on America. Sabotage is blamed on America. Every problem is blamed on America.

The same sort of thinking during World War II would have blamed Nazism and Japanese Imperialism on America, and probably on Winston Churchill to boot. Nazi atrocities would have been blamed on America because taking them on made them mad.

Her resume is impressive. She has studied this subject much more than I have.

Therefore she has no excuse.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 21, 2003 12:37 AM
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