Sunday, December 05, 2004

Why the U.S. can't win in Iraq

Or rather, why the U.S. can't achieve the political objectives set out by the neocon fantasists and still promoted by the Bush regime, namely to achieve pro-American democracy in Iraq....

This Boston Globle article makes it clear why the U.S. needs to redefine its criteria for victory, as I started to enunciate last week: the tactical requirements to beat the Iraqi insurgency make it all but impossible for the U.S. to achieve its stated political objective of turning Iraq into a viable, pro-American (or at least non-anti-American) democracy. The money graf is the first one:
The US military is drawing up plans to keep insurgents from regaining control of this battle-scarred city, but returning residents may find that the measures make Fallujah look more like a police state than the democracy they have been promised.
The U.S. faces the same clear choice that every imperialist has who faced a well-armed, popular guerilla insurgency: you either have to subject the population itself to total repression (or, in the "classical" Roman model, kill them all); or you need to abandon the fray (the "modern" de Gaulle model). Contra Max Boot, you can't maintain both an imperial stance and an image of national benevolence. When it comes to resentful foreign populations, if you wish to order their world, you must be a ruthless dictator.

The article goes on to quote a soldier who seems to be reluctantly inching toward this realization, in reference to what the future holds for the civilian population of Fallujah:
One idea that has stirred debate among Marine officers would require all men to work, for pay, in military-style battalions. Depending on their skills, they would be assigned jobs in construction, waterworks, or rubble-clearing platoons.

"You have to say, 'Here are the rules,' and you are firm and fair. That radiates stability," said Lieutenant Colonel Dave Bellon, intelligence officer for the First Regimental Combat Team, the Marine regiment that took the western half of Fallujah during the US assault and expects to be based downtown for some time.

Bellon asserted that previous attempts to win trust from Iraqis suspicious of US intentions had telegraphed weakness by asking, " 'What are your needs? What are your emotional needs?' All this Oprah [stuff]," he said. "They want to figure out who the dominant tribe is and say, 'I'm with you.' We need to be the benevolent, dominant tribe.

"They're never going to like us," he added, echoing other Marine commanders who cautioned against raising hopes that Fallujans would warmly welcome troops when they return to ruined houses and rubble-strewn streets. The goal, Bellon said, is "mutual respect."
Bellon's line of reasoning about the need for the U.S. to act as the "benevolent, dominant tribe" in Iraq represents a sort of halfway point in the slow realization of what it really means to run an empire: Bellon realizes they hate us, but stills believes that the U.S. can be both "benevolent" and "firm" (euphemism alert!).

Such a combination works when raising children. But it doesn't work with foreign populations in the age of the modern media. Basically, if you're not willing to deal ruthlessly with civilian populations, then don't pretend to have the stones to run an empire. To be an imperialist, one must have the courage to carry out the necessary crimes. But the modern media makes it inevitable that these crimes will be fully displayed, and thus makes it impossible to maintain the fiction (or rather, the propaganda) of benevolence.

So that's it: either imperialism or benevolence, but not both.

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