shifting cultures

Saturday, October 23rd, 2004

The arguments have been made and will continue to be made that the larger issue surrounding the offensive in Iraq is really about changing the culture of the Middle East so that the conditions that cause terrorism will be nipped, whatever this means. As Bill Kristol writes in The Weekly Standard:

In his October 18 speech on the war on terror, President Bush noted correctly that his opponent “has not made democracy a priority of his foreign policy.” Indeed, Kerry’s critique of Bush goes beyond competence in the execution of policy to first principles. Kerry does not see a need to fundamentally change the political culture of the Middle East. Bush posed the challenge well: “Is he content to watch and wait, as anger and resentment grow for more decades in the Middle East, feeding more terrorism until radicals without conscience gain the weapons to kill without limit?” Bush isn’t. Thus he embraces the task of helping to spread “democracy and hope” so that “governments that oppose terror multiply across the Middle East.”

This is, of course, where I see the heart of the illogic and apparent madness of the current administration and its boosters. Kristol highlights a connection between “democracy” and “governments that oppose terror.” What troubles me about this connection is its simplicity and its power. It could easily be argued that spreading democracy across the globe is a great policy position to take, just as messianism for some religions seems, on the surface, graceful. But in our case the circumstances are different but just as cynical and naive and tactless. “Democracy and hope” is a position, a rationalization, really, that sounds reasonable but really stems from emotional reactionism, superciliousness, and over-confidence, the kind of over-confidence that one relies on approaching a hornet’s nest with a broom and crazed grin.

I suspect it’s not democracy that we’re after in Iraq, however, since that term is so muddied these days. I’d say it has to do more with “control.” When someone says that we should be spreading democracy around the world, I wonder, why not spread swiss cheese around, too, just to give it some taste. The only reason that one can say that they are spreading democracy to another is if the carrier carries a big club and bank account or the 21st century paradigm of economic markets. American democracy can’t be separated from federalism and competition for limited resources, such as coffee, sugar, broadband, or oil. But we have plenty of control issues today: nuclear proliferation, new arms deals, and terorism is far from being fisted around the throat.

The problem is practice vs guesswork, fact vs inference. The Bush administration took us to aggression for WMD, knowing full well that WMD were an improbability. “Democracy and hope” is rationalization. Does this mean that those soldiers who died in the “thrust” to Baghdad died under suspicious circumstance, false entitlement? Logic says yes. This is worse than a shame.

The argument goes, “Better to fight them overseas than on US soil.” This, again, is faulty logic, given the place we’re fighting was irrelevant to the fight to begin with and the “rationalization” comes with loads of unintended consequences, such as inspiring a new generation of America haters (not democracy or freedom haters: abstractions don’t bleed). It would seem to me that this is a clumsy way to go about spreading the good news.

Both the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Hartford Courant have endorsed George W. Bush. One reason is economic. But the record is still up for grabs on the economic policy of the administration, as Kash points out in this post. Both Bush and Kerry have incredibly naive education approaches, yet the Enquirer’s reason for disagreeing with Kerry’s approach is false. Kerry keeps NCLB but actually funds it. I disagree with both positions. NCLB for me is a solution to the wrong problem, a huge money waster.

Finally, consider this contradiction from Richard Cheney, speaking in my old territory of New Mexico yesterday.

“One way the world might look if he [Kerry] had been in charge is, he would have ceded our right to defend ourselves to the United Nations. . . . If John Kerry had been in charge, maybe the Soviet Union would still be in business. . . . If John Kerry had been in charge, Saddam might well control the Persian Gulf today. . . . He might well have nuclear weapons,” Cheney said. “It’s a good thing he wasn’t in charge.”

Campaign talk aside, the suggestion here is the same as before: that aggression against Iraq was based on false evidence then, false now. “. . . Saddam might well control the Persian Gulf today,” he claims. The implications here are audacious (even for a speech to the typical hand-picked crowd and the reference to Kerry’s vote on Gulf War I). Now and “in reality”, the infrastructural state of Iraq (remember sanctions) prior to and after the “war” has been shown to be woeful; it was a country in ruins, disrepair, and decline, the only signs of gold hammered on the walls of the dictator’s palaces.

Such a speech, and the “democracy and hope” rationalizations by the boosters, aren’t worthy of respect, except perhaps by those who buy the metaphors and the ties. But belief is one thing, logic another.

By the way, the natural gas is flowing from Libya.

One response to “shifting cultures”

  1. Jason says:

    The only way (in my mind) to stop terrorism is to make people’s lives better. As the conflict intensifies, and more and more of their country morphs into ruins and charnel pits, all that is happening is the misery of the average Iraqi increasing. This misery is what lets the very small terrorist/criminal minority in any country flourish.