Monday, December 19, 2005

Yankees, go home

Iraq has had its third election in a year. That should now qualify it as a democracy. It meets Bush & Co.'s most recent definition of a success.

The United States's real success in Iraq took place some two and a half years ago, when Saddam Hussein's vicious regime was ended after a three-week invasion. It was a good thing to do and I'm proud of my country for doing it.

Ever since, President Bush has upheld one of the country's less admirable traditions, of winning a war and losing the peace. He and his advisors seem to have understood nothing about the psychology of the Middle East or about Islam. They assumed that once the Baathist government was no longer calling the tune, a grateful populace would hail the American liberators and the territory between the Tigris and the Euphrates would resemble the green and pleasant landscape inhabited by The Teletubbies.

When the Peaceable Kingdom didn't arrive on schedule, the rationale for the war and occupation morphed from taking down a threat to the United States to promoting democracy, the all-purpose solvent, the great Philosopher's Stone of history. While our very brave and extraordinarily skillful armed forces dodged (or failed to dodge) mortar fire and IEDs, as the casualty rate that had been minimal during the invasion began its agonizing rise, we applied to the Iraqis for their friendship. We tried to bring them together in one happy family. We rebuilt the country's infrastructure. The world's toughest fighting men and women were drafted as social workers riding in tanks. Some didn't make it home.

But we've won — we've hatched, officially, a democracy. We've accomplished all that we can accomplish. It's hubris to imagine that we have the power to instill in a people the power of self-government that it took the Anglosphere half a millennium to grow organically.

Not to say the Iraqis can't do it; I wish them the best. But we can't do it for them. The most we can do is create the outward framework of democracy. The spirit is something they'll have to develop themselves. If enough of them really want to, they will. If they don't understand or desire the idea of democracy, the state of mind it requires, then we can't inject it.

It's time to end the occupation. I don't want one more American life sacrificed for the fantastic notion of democracy all over the Middle East. If various different brands of Islam want to prong each other to win control, let them. We should probably welcome exactly that. Hasn't anyone among Bush's lineup of neocon bobbing heads ever heard of the maxim, "Divide and conquer"?

If the military strategists want it, we should establish permanent bases in Iraq. We should call the newly elected, democratically chosen, bright and shining leader of a liberated Iraq to drop by for a very private visit and listen to a valedictory speech. It would go something like this:

"Congratulations on your election victory, Mr. President. We're going to keep a couple of divisions and some Air Force units here so you won't miss us too much, but otherwise it's your show now. Feel free to call on us for advice, and come help yourself to our foreign aid, like most of the world.

"Oh, one other thing. If a little bird ever whispers in our ear that you are offering aid and comfort to al Qaeda or some such mob, we'll be having this conversation with your successor."

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