Sunday, March 13, 2005

Slower, please

Back in December or so, one of my pro-Iraq-war friends asked me to stop and appreciate what was about to happen in Iraq, namely the political ascendancy of the Shiite majority for the first time in many centuries. That struck me as an important point, even if I was more inclined than him to wring my hands over what empowering a community of this sort would really mean for the Kurdish, Turkomen, and Sunni minorities within Iraq -- to say nothing of the wider Middle East.

Indeed he was right about the results of the vote: the (Shiite) United Iraqi Alliance coalition won a 53 percent majority. However, it turns out that winning a majority of the seats in the Iraqi parliament doesn't actually mean political ascendancy. It just means that the Shiites get to be the most frustrated party to the gridlock that has overtaken the Iraqi interim constitutional system (a gridlock created by design to keep Kurds on board).

The constitutional siutation in Iraq is complicated, to be sure, and I would hardly want to give the impression that I think the Kurds should be told, simply, to suck it up and deal. But with that said, all those Shiites who took the risk of going to the polls on January 30 have ample justification for being seriously frustrated, if not downright angry.

The truth is that the results of the war (even the positive results, leaving aside all the collateral negatives) have hardly been what pro-war sorts could have hoped for -- and yet we never hear these folks go back and say anything even as mild as, "maybe I misread the available options," much less any more profound reassessment. Instead, it's on to the next project (a process abetted by a press corps that quickly tires of reporting the same thing day in and day out, no matter how important that same thing may be). In short, what bums me out about the "faster, please" coalition is that it rarely slows down to reassess the retrospective results of its glorious campaigns. It is always moving on to the next topic, the next place, and assuming that all is going well in the places left behind.

It's all very well to have dreams and hopes and goals and ambitions. But at some point one must assess the actual impact of the policies put into place to implement these dreams and hopes and goals and ambitions. If there's one thing conservatives ought to understand, it's the law of unintended consequences. Or as Marx famously put it (in one of his depressive-conservative moments), "Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living." It's a quote worth always keeping at the front of mine whenever one advocates a revolution.

1 comment:

Sam said...

More to the point, we can't accept the premise -- on offer by the administration and not much doubted by the media -- that the isolated "victories" achieved were inseparable from the overall policy or agenda which led to them. We cannot be hostage to a way of thinking that demands us to assent to a policy or an overall agenda on the basis of a single good event or even a series of promising events. For that is to assume that they were available no other way than through the policy or agenda. The point, then, is perhaps not about slowing up or speeding down but about remembering the plurality of different directions there are in history. Backwards and forwards seriously underdescribes the options, and to accept those terms of reasoning is a mistake.