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 09:53 AM | Comments (0)

August 14, 2006

Brief Tastefully Ironic Review of The Life Aquatic

As competent and effective as Ehud Olmert's leadership of Israel.

Posted by Demosophist at 10:14 PM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2006

12 Degrees of Freedom, and Still No Clue.

Stratfor has released a Special Report that doesn't even attempt to clarify anything:

The pressure on Olmert from IDF is intense. But it is also intense politically. Benyamin Netanyahu, leader of Likud, has remained virtually silent, holding off criticizing the government. He has even restrained some of his colleagues. Clearly, he does not want to destabilize the government now. Yet, at the same time, his relative steadfastness while the government tries to sort things out remains odd.

It may be odd, but it's not the oddest:

In looking at Israeli behavior -- which has become the most interesting and perplexing aspect of this conflict -- we are struck by an oddity. The Israeli leadership seems genuinely concerned about something, and it is not clear what it is. Obviously, the government doesn't want to take casualties, but this is not a political problem. The Israeli public can deal with high casualties as long as the mission -- in this case the dismantling of Hezbollah's capabilities -- is accomplished. The normal pattern of Israeli behavior is to be increasingly aggressive rather than restrained, and the government is supported.

When a government becomes uncertain, it normally reverts to established patterns. We would have expected a major invasion weeks ago, and we did expect it. Something is holding the Israelis back and it is not simply fear of casualties. The increasing confusion and even paralysis of the Israeli government could be explained simply by division and poor leadership. But we increasingly have the feeling that there is an aspect to Israeli thinking that we do not understand, some concern that is not apparent that is holding them back from doing what they would normally do.

One "oddity" after another. I don't think I've ever seen or heard of a situation where the concerns of a sovereign state were this inscrutable. Not even the Soviet Union measures up to this level of mystery, and certainly not the Kennedy administration during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But I have yet to see anything that runs directly counter to Simon's thesis: that this is a magnificent deception. That is, other than the obvious problem that a dramaturgical display this extensive and deceptive is totally unprecedented, and demands a level of discipline and competence that's difficult to even imagine. It seems unlikely, but what else explains all of these clues?

On the other hand the Israelis might know that Iran has some WMD capability that no one else has guessed, and be keeping wraps on such information to quell panic, or because there was a massive intelligence failure involved. What else?

The Stratfor analysis finishes with something that appears to rule out M. Simon's strategic scenario:

However, while there are those who would argue that Israel's inability to decide clearly on a path is simply cover for action, our view is that the situation has gone well beyond that. Hezbollah is not being rattled at all. The Israelis are.

In Simon's scenario the purpose of the deception isn't to "rattle" Hezbollah, it's to make them overconfident. But at this point it's difficult to see how "over" could be accurate.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:43 PM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2006

The "Peace" Movement

TigerHawk has maintained for some time that the so-called "anti-war movement" is actually more like an anti-victory movement. It appears that the trend he noticed is creating some cognitive dissonance for a few genuine peace activists, like Mark LeVine, Professor of Middle East History at UC Irvine. Fretting over the recent petition in the Guardian he wonders:

According to the signers, the best approach is to offer our solidarity and support to the victims of this brutality and to those who mount a resistance against it.

Support for those who mount resistance? What exactly does this mean? Are my heroes Noam and Howard planning to pick up an RPG and start firing southward from the rubble of Qana? Should progressives be donating money to Hamas? Learning to crawl through tunnels and ferry the latest Iranian missiles to the front?

Of course, he hopes these are just ill-chosen words... but:

the ill-chosen (one can hope) words by my illustrious colleagues reflects a very disturbing trend within the Left that has emerged the last few years, and which has come to a head with the latest war: Many leaders of the movement are moving away from the commitment to non-violence that defined the struggle against the Vietnam War and the vast majority of protests against corporate globalization and the invasion of Iraq, and towards embracing violent resistance (think the Red Brigade, Bader Meinhof Gang or the Weather Underground) as a viable, and even the best way to check the capitalist war machine.

I'm actually somewhat gratified to see that at least a few people on the left are primarily interested in peace activism, and have enough sense of mission that the shift toward... something else, motivates them to speak out. I have to say that even though I don't agree with this fellow's premise, his article is still a breath of air in an otherwise suffocating and demoralizing opposition movement.

The natural impulse of most serious people is to abhor violence, and if possible to quell it. But the first mistake, at least for many less idealistic than Dr. LeVine, was to sympathize by default with a murderous and barbaric group pathology. That should not have even entered the picture, but once it had it oughtn't be any wonder that many are catching some form of the disease, even if it only manifests as "ill-chosen words".

Posted by Demosophist at 11:15 AM | Comments (0)