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Thursday, October 16, 2003

Bollettino

Tom Friedman is up to his old tricks again. At the moment, he is sounding much like Dick Nixon. At least Nixon had some reason to speak about a 'silent majority" of Americans in the 1970s. Friedman's grotesque parody of the Nixonian moment is to talk about the silent majority of Iraqis. You will be unsurprised that Friedman, equipped with superspecial ESP, has tapped into the libido of this group. Yes, Virginia, there is a silent majority of Iraqis stolidly husking the corn out there, and Friedman is their prophet. Much as the tailors in the Hans Christian Andersen tale demonstrated their skill with invisible thread, Friedman, having given his views this mass status, is free to represent the Iraqi man in the street. And why not? After all, it looks like the constitution, which will make Iraq a find and dandy permanent representative of the Republican party, is a bit off in the future -- say ten to twenty years -- so at present, the governing symbols of Iraq are up for grabs. Friedman, like Chalabi, knows a power vacuum when he sees one.

According to our prophet, then, what's been up with that silent majority? Why, they've been oohing and awwwing over the Bush�s program for their country. Today�s column, after lambasting Cheney, very properly, for getting out to infrequently � the poor guy suffers from ideological auto-intoxication � Friedman gets down to brass tacks:

�Thankfully, there is one group of people the Bush team is listening to: Iraq's silent majority. Ironically, Iraq is the one place in the world where the Bush team has chosen not to become obsessed with terrorists, not to focus exclusively on them and their noise, but to just keep on building a better Iraq for Iraqis � the only way to counter terrorism in the long run � despite the bombs bursting in air.�

Now, listening to a silent majority must be something like listening to the sound of one hand clapping � a mystical experience for the initiated. Those of us who are uninitiated wonder about the patronizing tone of building a better Iraq for the Iraqis. Better? That�s the kind of bland talk that dispenses with such problems as who defines better, who pays for it, who does it, who profits from it. In actuality, better is being defined in D.C. instead of Baghdad � it is being defined by the free market types who can�t pursuade the U.S. to swallow the minimal state, maximal corporation policy, but think a supine Iraq might be just the place to try it out. Better is defined by people who are colluding in the continuing slide of Azerbaijan into a semi-monarchical despotism � where�s the talk about democracy there? There was a story in the Times yesterday about � remember? � the democratic wave in the former Soviet Union. Friedman was an enthusiast back then, plugging in with his magic ability to access the silent majorities of various cultures whose languages he doesn�t speak and whose day to day customs he doesn�t know. Here�s a snippet that revisits this past triumph of capital and civil society for all:

�It is a discouraging spectacle for those who proclaimed victory for democracy when Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe more than a decade ago � and who speak of that event today as a model for what they envisage as a democratic transformation in Iraq and the Middle East.
"There is no consolidated liberal democracy in the former Soviet Union except for the Baltic states," said Michael McFaul, a professor of political science at Stanford University. "There is the legacy of the state just dominating politics. It's not a level playing field, and Azerbaijan is an absurd example of that."

And so, today, we have a new prez in Azerbaijan who looks like the old prez -- cause he's his son! And not a peep from our present creators of Middle Eastern Democracy on the run.

As I recall it, one thing those places all had in common was � yes! � shock therapy economics. The imposition of wild west capitalism by all means necessary. And so -- to get back to the issue of betterness for all -- what's better for the Iraqis than more of the same. So lately, phase two of the occupation, the Bush-ites are pouring down the wide open maws of the Iraqi silent majority an economic policy that is conceded to have the probable effect of increasing unemployment. Just the thing for a place with a 60% unemployment rate. Luckily, there are some voices that are timidly saying, we prefer not to. They are even on the Council.

Now, the Council, having only nominal power and not having a hot-line to the silent majority of Iraqis, only counts when it rubberstamps the better-ness we are spreading all over Iraq. So we just won�t listen to, say, advice from the Finance minister:
�We suffered through the economic theories of socialism, Marxism and then cronyism," the official, Ali Abdul-Amir Allawi, said in an interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum's East Asia Economic Summit meeting here. "Now we face the prospect of free-market fundamentalism."

Our advice to Friedman -- since he feels free to offer his advice to us -- is to turn his bat like ears to voices like this. Because what the Occupation is planning for Iraq is beginning to seem, best case scenario, like a mitigated version of Azerbaijan. A sort of Chalabi's Azerbaijan. We don't think that is worth 87 billion dollars.

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