Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Anti-Sully

Jim Henley @Unqualified Offerings so gets it:

If Something’s Not Worth Doing It’s Not Worth Doing Right
Inconveniently, the Bush Administration’s effort in Iraq has been so cosmically inept you feel sheepish holding it up as an example of a structural flaw in interventionism itself. Maybe, a voice whispers, this crowd really did just suck that much. But I have to throw the flag when the lesson Greg Djerejian draws from the story is

We must now focus on lessons learned, including ensuring that a nation-building effort is never again run via such cronyistic folly, but rather by finding and incentivizing the best and the brightest to man the effort, selected mostly by rigorous meritocratic criteria. Rumsfeld initially demanded ownership of this nation-building effort and ran it with his typically cheap bravura, a frivolity that would have led a better man to long ago resign in shame (it should be noted too that the President and the Vice President are totally complicit in the mostly bungled effort).
Near as I can tell, he’s not using the phrase “best and brightest” with even a hint of irony. This isn’t the first war to produce a slew of articles and books about American naivete and vainglory abroad. This isn’t the first political party to produce a clown college of political missionaries.

Before we get too wrapped up in finding and incentivizing, it’s worth reviewing just what a stupid idea the Iraq plan was in the first place. Yglesias gets part of it:

The idea was that we were going to reconstruct Iraq into a stable, unitary, liberal democracy in the heart of the Middle East. The odds of achieving this were always extremely low.
But it’s worse than that. “We” were going to reconstruct Iraq into a stable, unitary, liberal democracy in the heart of the Middle East so that the rest of the Muslim Middle East would remake itself in Iraq’s image so that a violent fringe of the Muslim Middle East would cease committing terrorism against the United States and the mass of the Muslim Middle East would drop its objections to American policies in the region because they now basked in the sunshine of freedom. The standard theory, you’ll recall, is that oppressive governments denied self-expression to their people, bamboozling them with anti-Israeli and anti-American propaganda. The most restless among their subjects turned their violent frustrations outward instead of upward. Democratic reform in the Middle East would change all this. That was how the conquest of Iraq would win the Global War on Terror.

The Iraq War could only count as a victory, on its advocates’ own terms, if the rest of the Muslim Middle East set about emulating a stable, unitary, liberal democratic Iraq and anti-American terrorism ended because of that.

Of all the reasons the Big Idea should strike you as self-evidently stupid, the biggest, I think, is what we might call the attitude problem. The Big Idea is monumentally condescending. Those silly Hajis don’t know their own minds! They say they hate our policies, but that’s just confusion!

You can’t do a genuinely effective job of “freeing” people you think so little of. While hawks from President Bush on down accused doves of “thinking some people don’t deserve freedom,” it was the hawks themselves who located all of the wisdom on our side, and all of the pathology on the Other. Why on earth would conquerors like that pay any real attention to what their subjects/clients thought their society needed? What could people like that know that mattered?

Focusing on the bungling may be effective short-term politics. But perfect execution of such a fundamentally flawed idea -- an idea rooted in arrogance befitting 19th century British colonialism -- would have likely brought us to the same place.

Sully and the liberal war hawks cling to the belief that the plan could have worked -- that their noble experiment was dashed by the incompetence of its implementation. They refuse to acknowledge the fault within.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the goal IS what is ACTUALLY accomplished and not what someone intended or expected or said the goal was, then we can see that there is no failure on the part of the 'great and good' men at the top. It doesn't matter if you were in on the deceit early in the game or if you are simply surprised by the obvious later on. When you drop a rock, it falls. When you put (allow) people in power like the ones we have now, well... The constitution has disappeared, any sense of decency, justice, or proportion marks you as a supporter of terroism and the price of oil has never been higher. What could be wrong? No effective adversaries, freedom to plunder at will and all the money you can't even count. This is a 'mistake'? I think it was the goal, ALL the time. Thought so before 9/11. Why didn't everyone else? Still don't get it? You won't have to wait long for proof. Of course, 'proof' in this case is the proof that you cannot undo what has really been done. That's when it's too late.


9:12 AM  

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