Lately, all the news from Iraq has been gloomy. So why do I feel like Iraq’s situation is the best it has been in decades?
It comes, I suppose, from my screwy take on this war. I recently looked at two media forums. In Open Democracy, there is a report on the debate at the New School between Hitchens, Danner, Powers , and Frum. Hitchens and Frum represented the right wing pro-war side, Danner and Powers representing the responsible anti-war side. Hitchens was the only optimist in the bunch. Danner and Powers think Iraq is spinning out of control, and Frum, representing the muted panic of the Bushies, thinks we all have to work together, ie stop criticizing Bush.
Then, in the Guardian, there is an article, writers on the war, which polls prominent writers about their own pro or con-ness about the conflict. I was happy to see that the majority were anti-war, but unhappy to see that the instinct to distrust Bush had not extended to any very deep thought about Iraq at present.
Summarizing the LI position, it would go something like this: Bush’s argument for war disguised an all to familiar American imperial adventure. As in Latin America, the administration was trying to take out a hostile dictator and replace him with a compliant puppet, under whose benevolent gaze the U.S. could spread its fine mesh of corporate interest, engulfing the resources and wealth of a conquered protectorate.
What Iraq demonstrated is that intervention on this scale, and at this distance, is not going to happen. The Empire has limits. More, the unintended consequence of the intervention was the removal of a truly horrendous regime, and the opening to an at least tentatively democratic one. Good news.
This happened as the result of two happy accidents. The first accident was the sheer incompetence and unpreparedness of the Americans in advancing towards their goal. The idea of stuffing a swindler like Chalabi down the throat of the population was quickly abandoned as impractical. The ‘liberated’ population didn’t follow the script. The looting destroyed vital infrastructure, while the infrastructure itself, after eleven years of sanctions, was incredibly decayed. Misstep after misstep was made by the imperialists, who were most successful, apparently, at building concrete berms to keep out the dangerous wogs.
Meanwhile, happy accident number two was happening. The resistance turned out to be dogged and disruptive. Like the Bush administration, the resistors were guided by a bad intention – a pure power grab – and a much worse history, that of mass murderers. They squared off against the occupiers, and as they did so, they relieved the Iraqi population from the consequences that would have ensued from a successful Bush plan – puppet status, nationwide respectable looting to the advantage of corporations and exiles. This more subtle looting, it turns out, has been forced to prey only on the American taxpayer, who is pumping money on the grand scale into keeping Cheney's retirement benefits very, very real.
The tide turned, we think, with the capture of Saddam H. This capture, in one blow, operated against the Americans and the resistance. The utter bankruptcy of the resistance, and its futility, was finally and conclusively exposed, on the one hand. On the other hand, the last excuse not to resist the Americans was blown away. The Iraqi masses could now operate without fearing the return of Saddam. And their first action was to counter the occupation.
This is why we think the elections Sistani wants are so important. Both the Bushies and the liberals are opposed to them, because they both share a managerial ideology. They both talk about democracy, but they want it organized to the point where their side retains power.
Well, we’d love to see secular democratic socialists retain or return to power in Iraq, but we believe process can't be separated from content; that top down implementation of a secular state evolves top down governance, usually by the military. If you think that insulating a progressive group against real politics works, look around you in the world. It is a fatal and stupid thing to do. It creates a malignant alliance between progressives in the country and their sponsors out of the country. This, in turn, attenuates the rooting of the progressive wing within the country until it represents, to the people at large, one more aspect of a colonialist ethos.
The consequence of a direct election might well be a triumph for a reactionary, theocratic party. But we think that if that party is going to triumph, it is going to triumph no matter how much the NGOs think they can manage the country into their various versions of liberal democracy. Far better to strengthen the parties that oppose theocracy within the country from the beginning, far better to take up the election challenge, have them begin to understand the mechanism of electoral politics, than to try to manage a detour around "petty politics". Which is why we are rather disappointed that people who truly do want to see the triumph of a secular state that measures its surrenders to neo-liberalism against an ideal of social welfare are locked into the scared mode. Sure, Iraq teeters on a blood bath of factional struggle – but, as nobody seems to remember, the Kurds went through the same struggle in the 90s, and seem to have not only survived it, but become much more secular, democratic, etc., etc. Not that we think the two Kurdish warlord parties are the last word in secularism .. however, the opportunity exists, there. Given that the Americans are blindly working towards freeing Iraq of debt and repairing the infrastructure, whoever wins the elections will have a better position than Iraq has had since 1979.
This isn't to underestimate the body count. Actually, it is hard to even estimate the body count in this country -- nobody counts it. However, the alternative body count was worse -- the attrition from sanctions, the hopelessness of Saddam, the blighting of all promise.
Of course, we are probably wrong about much of this, re the real situation in Iraq. But we have a lively distrust the prejudices of Danner, Hitchens, Powers and Frum, who are also probably wrong about much of the real situation in Iraq. In neither forum, you’ll notice, is there … an Iraqi.