Dec 27, 2003 1:43 am


I have argued, as have many others (including Friedrich Hayek, and historian Barbara Tuchman) that the idea of centrally-planned"nation-building" is a delusion doomed to failure, and that history conclusively demonstrates that not everyone in the world wants freedom in precisely the form in which it has manifested itself in the West, and particularly in the United States. This is simply a recognition of the inescapable fact that history and culture matter -- that it is not possible to graft a political system onto a country which has no social or, more importantly, intellectual traditions to support it.

There is nothing remotely racist about any of this. As I said, this is simply a recognition of the fact that the history of any given country is obviously crucial to what may be reasonably expected of that country in the future. Nonetheless, for stating these obvious truths, many hawks have irresponsibly accused people of viewing Arabs and/or Muslims as somehow innately"inferior," as being"unworthy" of"democracy." Such an accusation, at least insofar as it relates to the kind of argument I have been making over the last many months, is simply wrong and without foundation.

But now, in connection with our new"get tough" policy in Iraq -- a policy which involves surrounding entire towns with barbed wire among other delightful"innovations" (as if brutal dictatorial regimes in Iraq's recent past hadn't employed similar methods) -- we have American military commanders making statements like the following:

"Underlying the new strategy, the Americans say, is the conviction that only a tougher approach will quell the insurgency and that the new strategy must punish not only the guerrillas but also make clear to ordinary Iraqis the cost of not cooperating.

"'You have to understand the Arab mind,' Capt. Todd Brown, a company commander with the Fourth Infantry Division, said as he stood outside the gates of Abu Hishma. 'The only thing they understand is force — force, pride and saving face.'"

"You have to understand the Arab mind." If a well-known antiwar activist had made such a statement, imagine the howls of protest that would ensue from many self-righteous hawks."Why, he thinks Arabs are sub-human! He doesn't think they deserve democracy! Why, it's positively ... unAmerican!!"

And our military commanders inform us that"[t]he only thing [the Arabs] understand is force." Well, that doesn't bode too well for the prospects for democracy, does it?

The Times story also contains a significantly misleading sentence near its opening:

"In selective cases, American soldiers are demolishing buildings thought to be used by Iraqi attackers. They have begun imprisoning the relatives of suspected guerrillas, in hopes of pressing the insurgents to turn themselves in."

But toward the end of the story, we learn the following:

"In Abu Hishma, residents complain that the village is locked down for 15 hours a day, meaning that they are unable to go to the mosque for morning and evening prayers. They say the curfew does not allow them time to stand in the daylong lines for gasoline and get home before the gate closes for the night.

"But mostly, it is a loss of dignity that the villagers talk about. For each identification card, every Iraqi man is assigned a number, which he must hold up when he poses for his mug shot. The card identifies his age and type of car. It is all in English.

"'This is absolutely humiliating,' said Yasin Mustafa, a 39-year-old primary school teacher. 'We are like birds in a cage.'

"Colonel Sassaman said he would maintain the wire enclosure until the villagers turned over the six men who killed Sergeant Panchot, though he acknowledged they may have slipped far away."

Abu Hishma is a town of 7,000 people. We are therefore holding 7,000 people hostage -- not merely"the relatives of suspected guerrillas" -- in hopes that the villages will turn over six men, who may have slipped far away in the meantime.

And here, in a disturbingly accurate admission, is the key to the psychology behind all this:

"'With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them,' Colonel Sassaman said."

This is nothing less than insane. There is a well-recognized syndrome in psychology -- a syndrome which leads to a never-ending intergenerational cycle of violence. A parent beats a child, constantly repeating:"But why don't you understand that I love you? Why don't you see that I'm just doing this for your own good?" And all the while, the parent physically brutalizes the child, who then grows up and does the same to his child.

And one of the notable results of this behavior is hardly surprising: the child fears -- and hates -- the parent. Yet this is now how we propose to win over the Iraqis, and prepare them for democracy:"a heavy dose of fear and violence" -- and monetary bribes -- will" convince these people that we are here to help them."

This is the same road the British traveled down in Iraq -- and after 40 years, the British finally gave up, recognizing the hopelessness and self-defeating futility of their task. But in close to record time, we have crossed over into very dangerous territory: this is the kind of occupier psychology that could easily lead to the killing of large numbers of Iraqis, a massacre or massacres which could unleash a horrific wave of violence directed at Americans, and possibly also directed at other Iraqis.

It is time for some very harsh truth-telling, and it is time to strip away the comforting and false self-delusions in which many hawks wrap themselves. There is nothing loving or kind about a parent who beats his child, while claiming that he does it out of love and concern for the child's well-being. And there is nothing kind or benevolent about forcing Iraqis to adopt a form of government or a way of life which they may not want -- and which they certainly do not want if it comes at the ends of the guns wielded by an occupation force.

We have invaded a country which posed no serious threat to us, and we still maintain we are intent on bringing the blessings of liberty to the Iraqis -- but we will do it using force, fear and violence. This is a fatal contradiction that was doomed to fail. But in the process of attempting to make a contradiction true -- which can never be done, and which must end in the destruction of the one who attempts it -- we are turning ourselves as a nation into monsters. And we are also planting innumerable seeds of hatred against the United States, which may well grow into future terrorist attacks on the U.S., just as they are now causing the deaths of American soldiers on a daily basis.

The Bush administration, by means of this insanely destructive foreign policy, is now achieving one objective for which I truly cannot forgive them: they are making me ashamed to be an American.

Cross-posted at The Light of Reason.

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