“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, November 23, 2003


George Packer is following in the footsteps of Robert Shaplen at the New Yorker. Shaplen wrote long pieces about Vietnam that every journalist read. Packer�s piece on Iraq in this week�s New Yorker is the same big picture reporting. It�s good. It�s also a bit confusing. Internal textual clues indicate that much of it was written this Summer, when the Coalition authority was doing fairly well, and it was finished off this Autumn, when that wasn�t the case. Packer takes a much more benign attitude towards the Coalition program than LI. However, it was the last couple of grafs that pinpointed our Iraq problem. Packer meets a U.N. official who was an aid to the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, killed in an explosion in September. The official warns against holding elections too soon, before the moderates can be organized.

LI is for those moderates. We�d love us some moderates. But elections aren�t about electing who you want � they are about the risk of electing who you don�t want. To think that the first elections should be rigged is, well, typical bureaucratic thinking. And, we fear, the idea working like a deathwatch beetle behind the panel of U.S. policy. What impressed me most about Packer�s reporting was not anything that was said or described, but something that Packer ignores. With an occupation that, as Packer pictures it, is so often clueless and out of touch, it is amazing that it isn�t being resisted more vigorously. It is a measure of the bankruptcy of Saddam�s Iraq that his supporters, the Ba�athists, can�t seem to take advantage of the American ineptitude. Why? Because they represent zip. They represent the pure rapacity of zip. While the Sunnis have the traditional fear of elites in unstable times, even the Sunnis know that going back to a sanction period for the sake of Saddam is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, I still don�t think the effect of the sanctions has been understood among the Americans, who view the devastation as some kind of condemnation of state-ism. The Iraqis understand very well that state-ism worked just fine in the seventies and into the eighties. That was when it stopped working fine. State-ism became aggression, which became unsustainable borrowing, which became defeat, which became sanctions. Americans are proposing a cure for the wrong disease when they make their favorite profound economic changes in Iraq. One of the ironies, here, is that these changes are going to come about, in a more moderate form, anyway, since no economy in the global system can no operate without them. Look at Iran � the student protests, recently, weren�t set off by the violations of democracy, but by the attempt to privatize some Iranian higher education.

However, by putting their greasy fingerprints all over these laws, Americans have probably increased the chance that they will be resisted or overturned.

Enough. Packer discovered that the Coalition Authority people were all going around reading big history books this summer. Among others, he mentioned Horne�s history of the Algerian war, which we just read. In that vein � we�ve been reading a fascinating, thick history by Philip Mansel. We highly recommend Mansel�s history of Constantinople, 1435-1923. His latest on these shores, Paris between Empires, 1814-1852, is irresistible. And it throws some light on occupations � after all, 1814 was the year the Cossacks watered their horses at fountains in Paris. We are gonna write about this in another post, soon. In the meantime, here are two grafs from the review of the book in the Economist in July, 2001. That slight British disdain for the foreigner � how it oozes through!

�You might think that writing about Paris between empires-between the fall of Napoleon I and the rise of his nephew, Napoleon III-is a slightly odd enterprise. The former made Paris the centre of European power; the latter, by transforming the city into a showpiece of modernity, turned it in the eyes of many into "the capital of the 19th century". But Philip Mansel demonstrates that Paris in decline had its peculiar attractions. As in Weimar Berlin, or Moscow and St Petersburg in the 1990s, or indeed like Paris itself in the 1950s, the collapse of power drew a picturesque crowd seeking social, artistic and financial opportunities.
From the Duke of Wellington down, the victors and their hangers-on came to spend their money on high and low adventures. Paris was cheap, so people who did not greatly count in London could make a splash. Successive French kings were anglophiles-perhaps genuinely and certainly politically-so British tourists could be courtiers for a day. The richer and more ambitious could buy splendid mansions from Napoleon's impoverished marshals and have the Comtesse Juste de Noailles draw up the guest lists for their parties.�

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