Monday, December 11, 2006
I see a darkness:
Roger Cohen writes in The New York Times:

Iraq, in short, needs Iraqis — citizens of a nation rather than of a tribe — and that, after decades of disorienting dictatorship, is a generational undertaking scarcely amenable to American electoral timetables.

Right now, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds see “freedom” more as the opportunity to be free of one another than to forge a liberal democracy. That’s how subjugated peoples, from the Soviet Union to Yugoslavia, tend to react to the lifting of tyranny. Iraqi behavior is not especially strange.

It's worse than that. In Yugoslavia & the former Soviet states, there was a sense of identity that didn't imply anything for those who didn't share it. If you are a Croat, you're not a Serb. If you're a Georgian, you're not a Russian.

Iraq is worse. As best as I can tell, there is an Iraqi identity, and a deeply felt one. It just means something different than we understand it, typically. If you are a Sunni, you believe the repository of the true Iraq exists within and reduces to a Sunni entity. If you're a Shiite, you believe the same thing about the Shiite relationship to Iraq-ness. As a result, the competing sectarian claimant isn't merely a security threat. It's an existential, metaphyisical challenge to the identity you claim. This construct, as best as I can tell, carries the most explanatory freight for the question of why reconciliation is a non-starter. In other words, this is how genocides begin.
--Spencer Ackerman
There's the abstract existential aspect, and, of course, there's also the urban economy, which has broken down, under the weight of massive unemployment, the effects of widespread and sustained looting, and the failure of Reconstruction to restore essential infrastructure -- electricity, water, and sewage treatment.

Iraq is also a society living in near-apocalyptic material conditions. Think "Great Depression" x5.

Sectarian violence is related to material conditions. As society and economy breakdown, people fall back on their more elemental identities and frameworks for social organization, they are angry and scared, and, of course, if they are in Iraq, they are well-armed, hot and sweaty, and have time on their hands.

I am not trying to be funny. But, I do think that it is useful to remember that we are not witnessing just some abstract, bloody-minded sectarianism. We are looking at the consequences of Bush policy failures in conducting the occupation and reconstruction.

There's a thread on the left, which is so insistent that the war was a bad idea from the outset (true, imo), that they refuse to recognize that the abject, incompetent failure of occupation and reconstruction contributed mightily to the present situation. It would be like admitting that the war could have turned out alright, to admit that the conduct of occupation and reconstruction helped created the degree of catastrophe we now witness.

But looking squarely at the material failures of occupation and reconstruction provides a useful material yardstick of what we needed to do, which puts the lie to the ridiculous proposals for one last Biden Shot, one more Friedman, 20,000 more troops (where 200,000 more would barely make a dent).
Blogger Bruce Wilder | 10:13 AM

"As best as I can tell..."
"As best as I can tell..."
I don't know the history of Iraq but... "as best as I can tell"

The question you mean to ask is whether or not Iraq is Yugoslavia and whether Saddam was Tito. But you don't ask you answer "as best as I can tell." if you're too hot for the New Republic they must be sub zero.
Blogger D. Ghirlandaio | 10:14 AM

Sorry, you'd rather I be less transparent about what I assert and what I know? Take the analysis or leave it.
Blogger Spencer Ackerman | 10:24 AM

No I'd rather you ask the question rather than pretend to answer it.
Blogger D. Ghirlandaio | 10:37 AM

You mean, was the strongman necessary to hold together Iraq's sectarian divisions? On the one hand, it can surely be no accident that Iraq never had a liberal political order. But from all accounts, Iraqi sectarianism is aggravated now to a point previously unfamiliar to Iraqis. Why is it you think this is the crucial point here? In order to suggest that the only way forward is to promote a little-Saddam? Or what?
Blogger Spencer Ackerman | 11:07 AM

"I see a darkness"

So, I take it you're a Will Oldham fan?
Blogger fnook | 12:04 PM