Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Friday, December 24, 2004

Us, Them, and the Others

I haven't written anything here in a long while. Asked why not, I recently replied, "the world has me at a loss for words." It was while reading an op-ed by Thomas Friedman Worth a Thousand Words, that I felt I found my voice again. Actually, it wasn't so much what Friedman wrote as who he so approvingly quoted: Tony Blair.

"Whatever people's feelings or beliefs about the removal of Saddam Hussein and the wisdom of that, there surely is only one side to be on in what is now very clearly a battle between democracy and terror. On the one side you have people who desperately want to make the democratic process work, and want to have the same type of democratic freedoms other parts of the world enjoy, and on the other side people who are killing and intimidating and trying to destroy a better future for Iraq."

What are these "democratic freedoms"? That verbal coin is somewhat debased. Why, just before I hit the blogspot control to start this entry, I noticed some bit of self-congratulation on Blogger's startup page, quoting the New York Times about how blogging wouldn't be nearly so "democratic" were it not for how easy it is to set up a blog.

Democratic freedom. We know it when we see it, I suppose. But what about those in the world who have never seen it? Someone once had this to say about that:

"And one should bear in mind that there is nothing more difficult to execute, nor more dubious of success, nor more dangerous to administer than to introduce a new order to things; for he who introduces it has all those who profit from the old order as his enemies; and he has only lukewarm allies in all those who might profit from the new. This lukewarmness partly stems from fear of their adversaries, who have the law on their side, and partly from the skepticism of men, who do not truly believe in new things unless they have personal experience in them."

Elsewhere, Machiavelli writes that a city that is used to being free will strive to regain its freedom from an occupier - you can raze that city, or you can go live in it, but you cannot truly hold it. However, a city used to domination, upon being freed and left to its own devices, will fall under domination again. In Iraq, we are dealing with the latter case. In Iraq, we are dealing with a relic of Empire - the Ottoman Turk empire, then, more briefly, the British Empire. Iraq's boundaries are but lines drawn to mark where divide-and-rule politics have reigned for centuries. Saddam only took up the same game within the nation-state context. It is a country of subjects, not citizens, and we shouldn't be so sure that this can change overnight - or even in a generation.

So do you see it now? How Blair (and Friedman) oversimplify? We take it as a given that Iraqi want something they've never seen in their own country. What they do know is order (draconian, murderous order, but still order). And America hasn't been able to supply that. Beyond order, Iraqis also came to expect amenities - clean water, continuous electricity. American hasn't been able to supply those either.

It's not Us vs. Them. No, it's A Lot of Us vs. A Small But Persistent Them, with the vast majority being - at best - those "lukewarm allies" Machiavelli spoke of. Lukewarm allies like those Iraqi troops who desert in mid-campaign. Lukewarm allies like those Iraqi civilians who, despite an average of one gun per household, do not organize to evict the renegade militias controlling their towns. Lukewarm allies who might chill down to the freezing point, only to be warmed again by Them.