Friday, December 15, 2006

# Posted 7:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

Across ideological lines, American politicians and pundits are finally coming to a consensus on Iraq: It's the Iraqis' fault. "We gave the Iraqis their freedom," pronounced liberal California Senator Barbara Boxer on November 16. "What are they doing with this freedom? They're killing each other." The next day, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer heartily concurred, writing: "We have given the Iraqis a republic, and they do not appear able to keep it."

It's easy to see why this line of argument appeals to both left and right. For liberals, blaming the Iraqis justifies a U.S. withdrawal: If the Iraqis are incorrigible, then there's nothing U.S. troops can do. For conservatives, it excuses the Bush administration: If the Iraqis are incorrigible, this catastrophe is their fault, not ours.

It's a soothing, self-justifying argument, but it's dead wrong. The United States has not given Iraqis their freedom because freedom requires order, which the United States--from the very beginning--did not provide.
Those are the words of Peter Beinart, from an excellent column in last week's TNR. Beinart goes on to make a second, related point which quite surprised me:
Shia and Sunni Iraqis are not turning on one another because of ancient, primordial hatreds. They're turning on one another because when the state fails in its most basic task--keeping you alive--you turn to any entity that can. Imagine you're in prison. The state (embodied by the prison guards) doesn't protect you, and the hallways are controlled by racial gangs. If your survival depends on it, you'll develop a neo-Nazi or Nation of Islam identity awfully fast.

That's what is happening in Baghdad today. For most of the twentieth century, while Kurds mourned the state they were denied after World War I, relations between Iraqi Sunnis and Shia were good and national identity was strong...

If Iraqi nationalism was weaker on the day we invaded than it had been two decades before, it was still quite strong. As Kenneth Pollack has noted, when the National Democratic Institute asked Iraqi focus groups in the summer of 2003 which identity suited them best, a large majority eschewed Shia, Sunni, or Kurd in favor of Iraqi. "Iraq is not the Balkans," insisted Phebe Marr, author of The Modern History of Iraq, in April 2003. "There really isn't traditional enmity or hostility between Sunni and Shiite communities."
Beinart also cites two other academic historians to make his point. Given how dramatically I underestimated the potential for Sunni-Shi'a violence, I found this all quite interesting. Contrary to the suggestion that anyone well-informed should've known what was going to happen, it seems the evidence may actually have pointed in a different direction. Sadly, the viciousness of Sunni insurgents and terrorists who wanted to provoke a civil war was enough to turn the tables.
(7) opinions -- Add your opinion

I'll avoid writing about blame-and-run, in favor of two observations:

A newspaper (The WP?) ran a story about a Baghdad neighborhood that was "mixed" and who started to suffer these random killlings. On the verge of a breakdown in the fabric of societal trust, they finally convened a meeting and decided among themselves for a sort-of "neighborhood watch", bascially to cooperate so as to avoid falling into the cycle-of-violence 'trap' that is thrust by those using these kinds of terror methods.

It didn't have a completely happy ending, however. Unable to get the citizens to take arms and start killing themselves, the 'insurgents' adapted, in time, and started to send mortars into the neighborhood, instead (i.e. old fashioned tactics).

The film-documentary, "My Country, My Country" illustrated so many things au point. In one part of the film, a relative of the Baghdad doctor who's Sunni family is at the center of the film's reportage, visits him and asks him for money that her husband has demanded she seek from him. She confirms, when asked, that her husband isn't working because he has joined the Mehdi army. It's not shown, but it fairly obvious that he gives her the money ...
Yes, it is interesting, but is Beinart right in his key assertion that "relations between Iraqi Sunnis and Shia were good and national identity was strong"?
There is no person you are more fascinated with than Peter Beinart. Why? Is it because you agree with him on so much, and you must differentiate yourself from him on every minute point? Or is it that you want to give him more cred among conservative readers of you? Or do you find him generally quite annoying and hypocritical? Just curious, because I can find out about what Peter Beinart is saying more from reading you than checking up on Beinart's latest releases myself.
That's quite an admission from Beinart. To save his life in prison, he would become a neo-Nazi. I presume he would have developed a Nazi identity in Germany, for the same reasons. He presents this frank admission of cowardice as though it were the only imaginable course of action. Striking.
elrod, let me take a quick shot at questions. beinart is in no way annoying or hypocritical. accusations like that seem to come from critics to Beinart's left who have a political interest in tearing him down.

next, no I don't want to give him more cred among conservative readers. like anyone willing to criticize his own party, the other side tends to respect him. what beinart needs is more liberal friends, and my praise mostly hurts him in that regard.

finally, do you really think beinart and i are so close that i have a subconscious motive to differentiate myself from him? i think one has to be pretty far from the center (in either direction) not to see daylight between myself and Peter.

And I say Peter, because the one hypothesis you missed is that I pay so much attention to him because I know him personally. we're not drinking buddies, but he's been able to remember my name without a refresher several times, which counts in his favor.

of course, if his work were boring or unimportant, i'd just say nothing about it instead of making it the subject of so many posts.
"For most of the twentieth century, while Kurds mourned the state they were denied after World War I, relations between Iraqi Sunnis and Shia were good and national identity was strong."

This is true up to a point, and that point is the last decade of Saddam Hussein's rule, in which he used the Sunni Republican Guard to slaughter hundreds of thousands of Shi'a, and intentionally stoked the specter of sectarian conflict to maintain his iron grip over the Sunni populace. (In some neighborhoods good relations were maintained on a personal level because of the trust generated by repeated interaction, but that is more difficult to replicate nationally).

Aside from the post-liberation flush of nationalism captured by the NDI survey, Iraq has never had a particularly strong sense of Iraqi identity.

As one Iraqi expert put it, "There is still -- and I say this with a heart full of sorrow -- no Iraqi people but unimaginable masses of human beings, devoid of any patriotic ideas, imbued with religious traditions and absurdities, connected by no common tie, giving ear to evil, prone to anarchy, and perpetually ready to rise against any government whatever."

That expert? King Faisal I.
Thanks for the response. That actually makes sense. You really know the man! I actually appreciate Beinart's work quite a bit too. Sometimes it's hard to know who in the blogosphere knows who in real life.
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