War and democracy in Iraq

Paul Bremer in the WSJ celebrates the accession of the new Iraqi government, and makes a case that, as head of the provisional authority, he could not have moved any faster than he did in turning power over to the Iraqis.

Despite the amazing progress in Iraq in two short years, some armchair experts carp that we should have moved even faster. Frankly, it’s hard to understand what they are thinking. Newly liberated Iraq was a traumatized place. For almost four decades under Saddam, Iraqis lived in a country where the rule of law had been replaced by the rule of one man and his cruel whimsy. Whenever a provision of Iraq’s old constitution got in his way, he simply ignored it. Saddam admired Hitler’s and Stalin’s ability to control their societies. He modeled his Baath party on theirs and required his officials to read “Mein Kampf.” The party permeated every nook of Iraqi life, and, like the Nazis, even recruited children to spy on parents and neighbors. Expressing political views could be fatal.

Meanwhile, Paul Maass in the NYT Magazine rides along with an Iraqi counterinsurgency unit, largely Sunni, led by a former Baathist.  These are not the Little Sisters of the Poor.  They are tough, intimidating, and they beat up informers who lie to them.  Whether they engage in anything worse is impossible to tell from Maass’ annoying habit of making dark, oracular generalizations but providing only hints of evidence.  Let this stand stand as an example:

In El Salvador, Honduras, Peru, Turkey, Algeria and other crucibles of insurgency and counterinsurgency, the battles went on and on. They were, without exception, dirty wars.

Bremer’s point about the hollowing out of Iraqi civil society by Saddam’s monstrous regime is well taken.  But there is another impediment to democracy that has rarely been mentioned (except by me, here):  the people of Iraq, like those of most Middle Eastern countries, are organized in an essentially aristocratic order, more sympathetic to, say, Aristotle’s notions of personal greatness than Western (and, yes, Christian) ideas about universal equality.

The application of President Bush’s freedom policy in Iraq is an experiment on multiple levels, being carried out against forces that equate greatness with unrestrained viciousness.  The courage shown by the population has led to a new climate in the Middle East.  The installation of a government that these courageous people have elected is a huge step forward for the cause of freedom.

That the violence will continue goes without saying, given the country’s past and its level of discomfort with the ideals now being tested.  Whether the government-inspired violence reaches levels that violate our own American ideals of humanity, is something Maass should spell out if true.  The stakes are too large for mere hints and whispers.

 

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