More Rubble, Less Trouble?
There is a new narrative—compare the recent essay in the New York Times Magazine on the supposed resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan—namely that the United States is failing not only in Iraq to win hearts and minds, but also in Afghanistan. People there are purportedly tired of the violence, the inability of the Western coalitions to suppress it, and thus prefer to return to their former status of secure and indigenous authoritarianism.
I don’t know whether such pessimism is true or not, but I am interested in the frequent analysis that it is somehow the fault of the United States or its allies, not the Islamists themselves.
Consider Kurdistan that is still thriving. Its population, devoutly Muslim, apparently understands the advantages of Western commerce and tolerance in a manner not true of the Iraqi Shiia and Sunni communities, or the Afghans. Yet the West has poured more aid money into the latter than the former. The difference seems to be that in Kurdistan when someone picks up a Westernized cell phone, drives an imported car, or turns on a computer, they seek to use such appurtenances to bring greater security and commerce to their own.
In contrast, in tribal Afghanistan and the Sunni Triangle the Islamists are entirely parasitical on the West: they want our material products, but only to use them for destructive purposes. And if they employ televisions and videos to further the spread of Islam, they never pause for a second of self-critical analysis. It is not just that the world of the 7th century does produce what a Mullah Omar or Dr. Zawhri prefers to use, but that the Islamic Dark Ages ensure that such appurtenances could never be discovered or improved by fundamentalist cultures that adjudicate scientific research by Koranic purity, subjugate half the population, invest in scapegoating rather than in confident self-reliance, and predicate merit on blood ties and religious zeal.
Such a strange war
While we argue over various mathematical formulas to determine how many have died in the Iraq war, note that the passive is the voice of choice—as in “50,000 have been killed”, or “100,000 have died.”
Culpability is ignored. And so we have the following Orwellian situation: the aggregate number must include everybody who dies violently in Iraq: an “insurgent” in jeans who blows himself up in an IED mishap, a terrorist killed by a Marine, a child murdered in a school by Islamists, Shiites blown up by Sunnis and vice versa—all these are lumped together as collateral civilian deaths.
And how can it be otherwise, when the enemy wears no uniforms, counts on killing civilians to ruin the country, and most journalists will blame all deaths of any sort on the American presence in Iraq?
Stung by the dishonesty of “body counts” in Vietnam, and worried that in postmodern warfare, Westerners are not only not supposed to die, but also should not kill, our own forces release no figures on how many enemy terrorists they have killed. The result is that the narrative of almost all the mayhem coming out of Iraq is bifurcated into either how many Americans were killed, or how many “Iraqis” perished—a sure method to convince the reader that the entire enterprise is a complete disaster in which we are mere sitting ducks, whose presence alone leads to Iraqis dropping dead like flies.
Where does all this lead? Not where most expect. The Left thinks that the “fiasco” in Iraq will bring a repudiation of George Bush, and lead to its return to power. Perhaps. But more likely it will bring a return of realpolitik to American foreign policy, in which no action abroad is allowable (so much for the liberals’ project of saving Darfur), and our diplomacy is predicated only on stability abroad. The idealism of trying to birth consensual government will be discredited; but with its demise also ends any attention to Arab moderates, who whined for years about our support for the House of Saud, Pakistani generals, Gulf autocrats, or our neglect of the mayhem wrought by Islamists in Afghanistan. We know now that when the United States tries to spend blood and treasure in Afghanistan and Iraq that it will be slandered as naïve or imperialistic.
Lessons since 9/11
It is difficult in history to find any civilization that asks as much of others as does the contemporary Middle East—and yet so little of itself. If I were to sum up the collective mentality of the current Arab Middle East—predicated almost entirely on the patriarchal sense of lost “honor” and the rational calculation to murder appeasing liberals and appease murdering authoritarians— it would run something like the following:
(1) We will pump oil at $3 and must sell it over $50— and still blame you for stealing our natural treasure
(2) We will damn your culture and politics, but expect our own to immigrate in the thousands to your shores; upon arrival any attempt to integrate Muslim immigrants into Western pluralistic society will be seen as Islamaphobic
(3) Send us your material goods, whether machine tools, I-pods, or antibiotics. We desperately want them, but will neither make the necessary changes in our own statist, authoritarian, religiously intolerant, tribal, and patriarchal culture to allow us to produce them ourselves, nor will show any appreciation for the genius of others who can do what we cannot
(4) We ostensibly wish you to stop the killing of Muslims by ourselves and others—Milosevic murdering Kosovars, Saddam destroying Kuwaitis, Kurds, and Shiites, Russians killing Afghans and Chechnyans—but should you concretely attempt to do so, we will immediately consider your intervention far worse than the mayhem caused by others or ourselves.
(5) Any indigenous failure in the Arab Middle East will eventually be blamed on the United States or Israel
(6) Your own sense of multiculturalism must serve as an apology for our own violent pathologies, that can only be seen as different from, never worse than, your own culture.
(7) We must at all times talk of anti-Americanism and why we want you out of the Middle East; you must never become anti-Arab or anti-Muslim, much less close your borders to our immigrants and students.
(8) We will tolerate and often defend those who burn churches, ethnically cleanse Jews from our cities, behead priests, kill nuns, and shoot infidels as the necessary, if sometimes regrettable, efforts of our more zealous to defend Islam. But if any free spirit in the West satirizes Islam, we will immediately demand that Western governments condemn such blasphemy—or else!
(9) Material aid—billions to Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, or the Palestinians—is our entitlement. Any attempt to curtail it is seen as an assault on the Arab nation
(10) We are deathly afraid of nuclear Russia, China, and India who have little tolerance for either Islamism or terrorism, and so will ignore their felonies, while killing you for your misdemeanors.