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And What About The Bad News?

Sadly, this is contrary to my stated rhetorical strategy on Iraq policy, but today I've seen a whole bunch of awful stuff about living conditions in the new Iraq. It's ugly. Roughly speaking, despite the emergence of a semblance of a democratic process at the highest levels, the state infrastructure in Iraq remains weak-to-nonexistent. Party/militia structures on the one hand, and insurgents on the other are consolidating power over various bits of the country in a manner that's not exactly friendly to either the rule of law or the rights of women. You've got people getting maimed and killed, and precious little sign of law and order, or concern about the situation on the part of the occupying forces. Read the stuff for yourself as I don't have anything really insightful to say about it.

March 22, 2005 | Permalink


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Really, Matt, there's nothing to keep you from indulging your grand rhetorical strategy. It's not like the press in this country would ever tell the public that things are going anything less than A-OK.

Posted by: bobo brooks | Mar 22, 2005 12:42:53 AM

There was another story -- in the LA Times, I think -- that said that only a few of the ministries were actually functioning right now. It was buried down at the bottom, but one of those things that pops out and you like "whoa! why hasn't anyone reported this before?"

Posted by: praktike | Mar 22, 2005 12:43:31 AM

(those links are actually to the same IRIN news story, btw)

Posted by: praktike | Mar 22, 2005 12:44:19 AM

Oh my, we'll have to stay for years now. Better get to work hardening those bases.

Posted by: David | Mar 22, 2005 12:45:19 AM

Occupying power are required to make a full good-faith effort at providing internal security for occupied civilians. They may not declare themselves that a new gov't has been established and they are no longer responsible. One can imagine the hit-and-run regime-change scenarios that would come from such an interpretation.

This responsibility for civilian safety, was intended to make aggressive war difficult and expensive, at least for anyone who gives a damn about int'l law, and the welfare of non-combatants.

War crimes, pure & simple. Dozens to hundreds of war crimes. With tens of thousands dead, Bush ranks with some of the most evil names of the last one hundred years.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Mar 22, 2005 12:47:53 AM

Semblance of a democratic process?

Allawi is still prime minister and will be for the foreseeable future.

The elections were a failure. Now we are watching the countdown until Sistani loses his patience.

Posted by: Chris Leopold | Mar 22, 2005 12:48:32 AM

Democracy is far, far more than holding one election, even an effective election. All those silly purple ink-stained Congressional fingers were incredibly premature and childish.

Posted by: Deborah White | Mar 22, 2005 1:47:41 AM

The doom and gloom returns. Without some kind of overarching strategy, rhetorical or otherwise, the left is enslaved to the sense of crisis that is connatural to the news cycle. Things will seem to grow progressively worse, as one news cycle accumulates upon another. The vast majority of people are not so easily fooled, or bothered, as the case may be. They will see the left as so many Chicken Littles crying "Wolf" - and seek out someone who offers them a few morsels of hope. They will perceive the political party the left supports, as unreliable because unhopeful and unfaithful to the American Dream.

Oh, you say, but things really are getting worse. Maybe they are, or maybe they aren't. Maybe they are getting better and worse at the same time (hint: that's pretty much the shape of history anywhere at any time). It's not as important as one might think.

How can I put it in a nutshell? Until the left finds joy in kicking fascist ass again, even at great cost to ourselves and our country (think Hitler, think the collapse of the Soviet empire, think Milosevic, think Omar, think Saddam, yes, think the moolahs or what's his name in North Korea), why should anyone not on the left like the left? What is likeable about the left?

Just asking.

Posted by: John | Mar 22, 2005 2:32:05 AM

Now might be a good time to mention that saying the invasion of Iraq succeeded so we should bring the troops home is like saying the Bush tax cuts worked so we don’t need anymore tax cuts.

In other words: praising Bush tax cuts is likely to produce more tax cuts; praising the invasion of Iraq is likely to produce more invasions (into Iran, Syria, North Korea, China…).

Posted by: TheJew | Mar 22, 2005 3:14:38 AM

It's not as important as one might think.

Yeah, sure, except when one happens to live there, @sshole.

Posted by: novakant | Mar 22, 2005 5:16:10 AM

It's not all bad. Here's a good piece about how people of Sadr City manage to survive despite the occupation and all the rest of it: Guerilla War in Sadr City. People are resilient, they'll find a way usually.

Posted by: abb1 | Mar 22, 2005 6:36:36 AM

Praktike has become a helluva good blogger.

Posted by: Levi | Mar 22, 2005 7:44:10 AM

Another bit of good news intentionally ignored by the doom and gloom US media. Apparently the MSM simply refused to cover a recent press conference of Iraq's Health Ministry investigator Dr. Khalid ash-Shaykhli: Filter Tips. This is disappointing; thank God for the foreign press...

Posted by: abb1 | Mar 22, 2005 8:26:11 AM

Until the left finds joy in kicking fascist ass again, even at great cost to ourselves and our country

You are God damn right! Lookout Bush, I'm coming to get you. Cause John has motivated me to kick some fascist ass!

Posted by: Rambuncle | Mar 22, 2005 8:49:18 AM


the polls show that a majority of Iraqis believe their country is headed in the right direction. Jeez, these people live there. Why can't they get with the program?

The majority of Iraqis have no desire to return to the status quo ante. Idem the Afghanis. With the Syrian army and its fascist security apparatus leaving the country, idem the Lebanese. What makes you think otherwise?


go for it! Lead the charge! With your over the top rhetoric, no doubt many will follow.

Posted by: John | Mar 22, 2005 9:41:00 AM

Ahhh, the good old days of nuking facists!

Fletch: Oh, yeah. He dropped the Big One, huh?

Marvin Stanwyk: He dropped two big ones on them.

Posted by: theCoach | Mar 22, 2005 9:55:29 AM


in two posts you have managed to pile up the usual amount of conservative nonsense.

The problem with the poll in Iraq and the way you see it, is that in America a minority in whichever issue doesn't resort to widespread violence and guerilla warfare. See, that's what a democracy is.

A non-violent system of government where the minority, in exchange for certain constitutional guarrantees abides by the results of political process, knowing that in the future, there's a good possibility that it will become a majority.

That isn't the case in Iraq.

A poll in any western democracy operates under the implicit underpinning of those simple facts. These facts are missing in Iraq.

So, get off the coolaid.

Posted by: Nick Kaufman | Mar 22, 2005 10:01:55 AM


I don't self-identify as a conservative, but hey, I'm not the first to discover that anyone who supports the US effort in Iraq, who wants to make sure it succeeds (think Hillary) will be demeaned by the likes of you.

Of course you're right: Afghanistan and Iraq, here's hoping Lebanon soon, do not look anything like a Western democracy. Nor does democracy in Japan or South Korea, or at least not until recently, but I'm still glad we forced democracy upon them. But you also exaggerate the differences. Some minorities have no chance of becoming a majority through the electoral process. In that case, even in a western democracy, they may resort to terrorism. If you follow events in Northern Ireland or Spain, you may have noticed that.

Posted by: John | Mar 22, 2005 10:18:30 AM

Until the left finds joy in kicking fascist ass again, even at great cost to ourselves and our country

It's generally true that progressives are hesitant to involve themselves in "foreign entanglements" even with fascists, and not just because George Washington recommneded against it. I believe that's because we place a very high value on human life and always weigh that cost in undertaking an endeavor, particularly in a pre-emptive military endeavor like this where there was no threat, and where the war was never sold as a war of liberation until after it turned out that illegal arms were absent.

Your own comments, Chris, illustrate the disconnect between our two worldviews. Not only do you dismiss the terrible cost to Iraqis as being overstated you highlight the cost to us, as if American lives and treasure were somehow worth more.

From my perspective, until the "right" stops taking joy in killing people with turbans or funny accents, why should anyone like the right?

Posted by: Windhorse | Mar 22, 2005 10:20:05 AM

No John,

This isn't even about a western democracy. In the strict sense, Iraq isn't even a democracy. You have to have the minority consent to the political process. A significant percentage of the Iraqis didn't and doesn't. The Japanese and the South Koreans do.

In any case, whether Iraq is or isn't a democracy, wasn't my point.

The point was that you cannot use the poll you quoted a positive sign. Why? Because the minority blows stuff up. That simple.

Not to mention that the overwhelming majority holds other inconvenient beliefs like that Americans should leave or that the invasion had a hidden agenda . But I guess it's alright for the natives to believe that because they don't understand the benevolent force which is America under George W. Bush.

As for Northern Ireland, you brought up an excellent example for understanding the situation instead of using the usual bromides about the transformational power of freedom and democracy on the march.

Lebanon and Iraq, like Northern Ireland can better be understood under the lens of sectarian and ethnic conflict. This kind of conflicts can and usually go on for decades and decades and cannot be solved with a simple refuge to the ballot box.

The tricky problem in intra-state, ethnic conflicts is that because party preferences are inflexible -precisely because people vote based on their ethnic identities- you can't have the non-violent alternation of power which lies at the heart of the democratic process.

Some people believe that a solution lies in power-sharing arrangements like the one the US just imposed on Iraq. Lebanon however provides us with an excellent example of the instability of these arrangements.

See, 30 years ago, Lebanon was considered the democratic jewel of the middle east, a democratic island in a sea filled with authoritarian regimes. Unfortunately, the Lebanese institutions, which were supposed to manage the demands of the many ethnic groups composing Lebanon weren't able to absorb the destabilizing tensions generated by maximalist politicians playing of the insecurities of their constituencies, the changing demographics and the resulting ungovernability due to the endless demand for consensus decisions on virtually everything.

The underlying instability and problematic character of such an ethnically divided country hasn't changed one bit since 1975. Now, of course, everything will magically change once Syria leaves and the old warlords - I am sorry the democratic opposition comes to power.

Therefore, to view Lebanon and the similar Iraqi situation as another Eastern European country getting rid of communism is a dellusion that the American Right is making America pay very dearly.

Once again, get off the coolaid.

Posted by: Nick Kaufman | Mar 22, 2005 10:53:47 AM


I'm just wondering what your point is, other than to look for every opportunity to bash Bush and the American Right. I find your analysis insightful but your polemics poisonous.

I want to give you the benefit of the doubt and presume that you are willing to follow the direction of your arguments to their logical conclusion. For example, if US-led intervention in Iraq was and is delusional, because it will takes decades at best to sort things out in such an ethnically divided country, and the result will always be fragile, then what business did have in intervening in the ex-Jugoslavia?

Note: I supported Holbrooke and Clinton that time around, just I support Wolfowitz and Bush this time around, in the case of both Afghanistan and Iraq. Should you tell me that you regard all the above mentioned interventions as delusional, fine: you have my full respect. You are an isolationist, better safe than sorry, and why should we get involved in bitter ethnic conflicts that we will never solve anyway.

Perhaps you prefer, as Trent Lott said in opposing US-led intervention on behalf of Kosovo (Will Saletan had a delicious piece on this), to "give peace a chance."

Or if you support US-led intervention in countries riven by ethnic and religious conflict, so long as a Democratic president is calling the shots, then let me call a spade a spade: you are a political hack.

Posted by: John | Mar 22, 2005 1:42:24 PM

The delusion lies in the recent bromides about democracy being spread in the middle east because of the election in Iraq.

The rationale for intervening in both Bosnia and Kossovo was different than Iraq. In Bosnia it was done in order to stop the war among three exhausted sides and put them on the negotiation table. In Kossovo, on the surface, it was done to stop the ethnic cleansing of Albanians by Serbs, but behind it, I think, there was a logic that the US should intervene to provide stability and not allow the Albanian nationalism to spread in neighboring Macedonia and from there to Greece and Turkey.

In Iraq, depending on what hour of the day is and the assumptions you are willing to accept, the reason was either WMD, or that Saddam was a potential danger or that the war should demonstrate that America isn't to be messed with, or to remove a destabilizing threat to Israel, or to move bases from Saudi Arabia to Iraq or that there's a grand project in transforming the middle east through the establishment of a democracy.

All in all, in Yugoslavia, the US intervened after much hesitation -and without commiting ground forces- to essentially stop the bleeding and prevent the conflict from spreading to the rest of the Balcans; in other words the US intervened to provide some much needed stability and prevent worse things from happening.

In Iraq, especially if you buy the neocon vision, the US invaded Iraq to destabilize the region in the hopes of spreading democracy -under the equally big assumption- that democracy is a good thing in fighting terrorism.

One stands for a modest excursion with limited and realistic goals, the other is a project in social engineering of the grandest scale. Of course there is a difference.

Now, my post above was written to show that the problem in Lebanon and Iraq isn't to simply go there and have elections; it's far more complicated than that, and not easy to work out. We aren't talking about a fight between an evil oligarchy of authoritarians ruling the country against its wishes (like the conservatives like to portray the situation in Lebanon), but about different ethnic groups vying for power; the former represents a narrative that's clear-cut and speaks to American hearts, the latter a messy situation with no clear good and bad guys and no easy solutions. Of course, they are presented as such.

And we aren't even touching the unintended consequences of the war, the economic cost, the cost in lives, the cost of other alliances and the relationships america has built over decades.

Posted by: Nick Kaufman | Mar 22, 2005 2:09:57 PM

I have a question RE:isolationism...

Does the term isolationist really apply to someone who is simply averse to invasion? Going by purely dictionary terms, I would think you'd also have to advocate for greatly reduced immigration, trade, and participation in international organizations to technically be isolationist (as well as be of the "keep the troops at home" mentality).

If being against Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq is enough to get you called isolationist, than what is, e.g., North Korea?

Just asking...

Posted by: Dan | Mar 22, 2005 2:30:50 PM

The majority of Iraqis have no desire to return to the status quo ante.

"Better than Saddam" doesn't quite cut it.

Posted by: novakant | Mar 22, 2005 3:46:58 PM


thanks for your analysis. You make some excellent points. Yes, the Wolfowitz project is far more audacious than anything Holbrooke ever embarked on. It scares the beeJesus out of a lot of people. But so did Reagan's shift in raising the stakes in the Cold War. The ripple effects of the wall coming down continue to this day, and if a similar dynamic builds in the Middle East, the possibility of which you seem to sniff at, long-term (not necessarily short-term) it is reasonable to expect a positive outcome.


there's nothing necessarily wrong about being an isolationist, either across the board or only in terms of foreign policy. As Walter Russell Mead has explained, the isolationist Jeffersonians are one of four ideal types, or tendencies, that have determined American foreign policy since the nation was founded. The other three are the free-trade Hamiltonians, the altruistic Wilsonsians, and the go get the bastards Jacksonians. Each of these tendencies act as a check on the others. I'd love to hear a well-reasoned case for an isolationist foreign policy in response to the post-9/11 situation. I haven't yet, and I don't imagine you're going to hear one from Matt.

Sounds like you're worried we're going to rush in and take out the North Korean dictator. Not likely. That's a job for the Chinese. When and if the People's Republic decides to do it, they won't have to invade either. They have economic and other non-military levers sufficient to topple the regime. But don't hold your breath. Prudence and patience seem to be the bywords of Chinese foreign policy of late.

Posted by: John | Mar 22, 2005 3:53:02 PM

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