August 31, 2006

We the Un-British

There are either growing number of conservatives who've become opponents of the US policy in Iraq, or those that always were opposed are becoming less sanguine. Fred Reed, who I generally find interesting and amusing, just penned a venomous anti-Bush screed that suggests a rather stark decision tree:

Either Georgie Bush is the minor, depressing, witless ferret I think he is, or I am. It has to be one or the other. If things don’t start looking up pretty soon internationally, I’m going to be pretty sure which.

His contention is that Bush doesn't take human nature into account. That makes sense because, as the product of the elitist prep school system, he presumably didn't interact much with normal human beings. But then so is Fred Reed, and so am I. Gulp.

But though I feel some affinity with Fred, who might be our own generation's elder Tom Sawyer, if not Sam Clemens, I just don't believe he's thinking this through:

Think about it. When he went braying into Iraq like a learning-disabled jackass, he thought people would roll over, throw flowers, and have a democratic revolution. This would start a domino effect that would make all the other Moslem countries want to be democracies too. They would climb over each other to be democracies. They would love us because democracies love each other. He just knew it.

This makes perfect sense if you have no freaking idea how human beings work.

Of course, if you have read any history, which Bush hasn’t, you will have noticed that people do not like being occupied by force. They don’t like having their cities bombed. It galls them. It can, under certain circumstances (such as any circumstances) make them hostile.

If you think in terms of abstractions too simple for Reader’s Digest, you might reflect as follows: “Democracy good. Iraqi people, love’m democracy, so love’m us. Urrrg.” Then you might be real surprised when their gratitude was exiguous after you remorselessly wrecked their cities, killed their army (which consisted of other people’s husbands, brothers, and sons: ever think of that?), groped their women when you didn’t have time to rape them, and left them without water and electricity.

I’m not saying the Iraqis ought to dislike these things, only that pretty reliably they will dislike them. The Afghans too, or either. It’s how people are. Ungrateful.

Bush has no idea how people are.

First of all there were a lot of folks in that administration who weren't making the assumption that we'd be greeted with flowers... at least in the long run. But I did have a Latvian friend who told me that his father and uncles spent 12 winters in the Latvian forests waiting for a liberating US invasion, until they finally realized that it wasn't coming. And these folks weren't educated at Phillips or Andover, either. So human nature's a complicated thing.

And I'm not all that sure I see why we should care whether they like us, frankly. History may tell us that people hate occupiers, but it's also replete with examples where the values of occupiers have been successfully adopted by the occupied, especially if those values and institutions are the least bit worthy. The highest correlate with Democracy in the modern era is whether a nation was ever a British colony, suggesting that occupiers sometimes get the job done.

I mean, the British occupied America, and we pretty much despised them for it. Didn't turn out too bad. Most of the colonies never even had a genuine rebellion. Canada and Australia turned out OK, more or less. And India's occupation coupled with a successful anti-British revolution led to a phenomenon as inexplicable to sociologists as a bumblebee's flight was to aeronautical engineers: a democracy with extremely high levels of class and wealth disparity.

So, it wasn't necessarily a bad idea to invade Iraq in order to sew the seeds of a different kind of society. But it's probably a little naive to think that being liked is essential to getting the job done. Nor is it especially enlightened to think that the kind of dislike that a benevolently occupied people bear for the occupier naturally translates into murderous terrorism... which in this case is aimed mostly against non-occupiers. People are stupid and violent, and while it's important to acknowledge that reality, those are not exactly traits I'm willing to grant much deference.

And ultimately the only reason we're not perpetually in a Hobbesian war of all against all is that we're all "occupied", in a sense. The Stockholm Syndrome is an example of a larger phenomenon suggesting that people come to identify with those in power. The trait doesn't just apply to kidnap victims.

But the real problem might be that we place so much emphasis on being liked, because we think that has some transcendent value. The truth is, people don't identify with folks who are questioning and second-guessing their own power. They fight them.

The critical variable that ought to determine our actions isn't whether they like us, it's whether they're at a point that they can quell the wave of nihilism that threatens to sweep the Ummah and that targets us, not because we're occupiers, but because nihilism is an aspect of human nature that civilization, and sane women, don't like. When they're ready for that, by sentiment, conviction, and capability, we should leave. And when that time comes there might even be some utility in being disliked. More on that later...

Posted by Demosophist at August 31, 2006 09:53 AM