April 22, 2004

All class

Mark Steyn declares that the last three weeks of fighting are nothing more than chinks in the teapot, and that—surprise!—he was right all along about everything. Everything. Especially his belief that Iraqis only ‘understand’ force and power.

His evidence? Why, he visited Fallujah the other day, walked into a bar wearing a stylish suit, ate some chewy chicken… and didn’t get killed. (No, really.) It’s like the Iraqis were all afraid of him or something. Big balls on that young buck!

Honestly, this line of thought is as asinine now as it ever was. Read Steyn’s piece, from beginning to end. only thing he ever seems to think about is force. How he’s so tough. How he cuts quite the badass figure with those shiny cufflinks. No wonder his analysis comes down to one thought, one concept. The man’s only got one thought in his brain: force, force, force, force. Reminds me of someone else we’ve heard from recently:

America does not understand the language of manners and principles, so we are addressing it using the language it understands.
Quote: Osama bin Laden. Steyn might be the slicker stylist, but, alas, manners rarely make the moron. Both men boil down to a cartoonish view of the other side as a bunch of roughnecks who speak violence and violence only.

Maybe if Steyn stopped gazing at his pretty little cufflinks and—oh, I dunno—talked to actual Iraqis, he might get a different sense of things. Does this guy sound like he only understands force:

"My opinion of the Americans has changed," said Hassan al-Wakeel, 38, the owner of a men's designer clothing shop on Outer Karada. "When the Americans came, they talked about freedom and democracy. Now, the Americans are pushing their views by force. All of us feel that."
How about this:

"Four American people were killed in Falluja," said Omar Farouk, 35, the owner of a convenience store next to the electronics shop where Mr. Hussein works. "Because of that, 500 people were killed in Falluja. The message of the Americans is that `we have the power.' Iraqis will never accept that."
Or this:

"When they first came here, the Americans were smiling," he said. "You could go up to them and talk with them. But now you look at them and see that their faces are very grim. They think all of us are enemies."
Huh. Granted, I haven’t sauntered into a bar in Fallujah yet, but it sounds to me like Iraqis understand a lot of things, and can distinguish between force and progress.

Yeah, they’re upset. They’re resentful. Notice that the resentment above comes from the middle class. It assuredly goes double, or triple, or more, for poor Iraqis—Iraqis toiling about without running water or electricity. Steyn said it himself: Fallujah is a rathole right now. After years of Saddam and war, most of the locals probably don’t have much left besides their dignity and pride. So it seems pretty goddamn predictable that they’ll be pissed off when even that gets taken away. And that’s going to make them highly susceptible to demagogues like Moqatda Sadr.

These people are not sheep who simply fall happily in line with the strongest player. Yes, Steyn’s right, if we kill enough men and bomb enough houses, they’ll decide it’s not really in their interests to keep fighting. Obviously. But that doesn’t mean we’ve won them over.

There’s an interesting piece in The New York Times about Latin American attitudes towards democracy that relates quite well to the occupation:

A majority of Latin Americans say they would support the replacement of a democratic government with an "authoritarian" one if it could produce economic benefits, according to a United Nations report released Wednesday in Lima, Peru.
The lesson here should be plain. Very few people believe strongly in the ideal of democracy. They believe in results and their own interests. That’s been the case since the founding of America, where ideals mostly just happened to coincide with interests. It’s the case in Latin America. And it’s the case now in Iraq. If democracy can’t deliver tangible results and benefits, at least partly, then there’s not much point in having a democracy, is there? Force won’t change that. And Steyn’s shiny cufflinks certainly won’t change that.
-- Brad Plumer 11:15 PM || ||