It is beyond dispiriting that after 45 months of war an American official can think that this semi-genocidal conflict over the survival of groups divided about the meaning of God's will can now be dampened by clever economics.
And this, about the Baker-Hamilton report:
The ISG's central conclusion, important to say with the group's imprimatur even though the conclusion is obvious, is that the problem with Iraq is the Iraqis, a semi-nation of peoples who are very difficult to help.
Portraying the Iraqis as a bunch of irrational, bloodthirsty savages -- people fighting over some religious arcana who are "very difficult to help" -- is the latest craze on the right. Last week, the ever-charming Bill O'Reilly said:
Do I care if the Sunnis and Shiites kill each other in Iraq? No… Let them kill each other. Maybe they'll all kill each other, and then we can have a decent country in Iraq.
This is a particularly disgusting bit of historical revisionism, but it's also quite familiar. It recalls 19th-century Europeans (and Americans) who embraced the idea that colonized peoples were infantile and incapable of self-governance. It shares the same roots as Jim Crow, which was largely justified by the idea that the newly freed slaves were incapable of functioning without the guidance of their former masters. It's social Darwinism, as clear as day.
The narrative is intended to shift blame for the catastrophic sequence of events in Iraq from the policy-makers who started it to the Iraqis themselves. It's also simply wrong -- Iraq was a functional, modern and secular society before the Iran-Iraq war, and at least a functional one before the 2003 invasion. The chaos that followed resulted from choices made by the administration, not some deep-seated dysfunction in Iraq's culture.
Policy-makers in Washington made a choice to not only remove Saddam Hussein and the senior officials loyal to him, but to dismantle that functional state from top to bottom -- sacking the army, the police and hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats who kept the country running.
There was no strategic imperative to do so. The most likely explanation for that policy choice is that there was a recognition that the Iraqi civil service would be a source of resistance to the economic "shock therapy" -- the illegal restructuring of Iraq's political economy -- upon which the administration insisted. (The other viable explanation is, of course, that it was based on rank stupidity, and I won't discount that lightly.)
At the same time, a decision was made to run with the "Rumsfeld Doctrine" -- go in with a small army and rely on hi-tech gizmos to do the job. So there weren't enough troops to maintain order, and the troops that were there were trained in combat, not civil enforcement.
That resulted in a chain of events that led Iraq to what it has become today -- make no mistake about that. There was a security vacuum, and into it stepped armed militias. Iraqi nationalism -- strong before the war -- gave way to the overlapping identity-based conflicts that make up the maelstrom we see before us now.
This was all predictable, and in no way reflects on the nature of Iraq's culture or on the Iraqis themselves. Does Will believe for a second that the United States wouldn't devolve into civil strife of epic proportions if the entire infrastructure of the government were dismantled tomorrow, all the cops were sent home and only a small alien army were left in its place?
Consider what happened in New Orleans just weeks after its government was knocked out of commission: rumors -- unfounded it would turn out -- of marauding gangs of killers and rapists emerged and neighboring communities armed themselves and withdrew into their own little fortified towns. That was in just a small area of an otherwise functional country, and followed just days after the loss of government services. Jesus, look at the chaos that often goes down during a black-out, or following a major hurricane.
Viewed in that context, the Iraqis were actually quite slow to revert to a Hobbesian state of nature.