Success, What’s That?

Apparently President's Bush does not believe, as George Santayana did, that, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Instead he seems to subscribe to what I once thought was Hitler's concept of the "Big Lie," but according to this Wikipedia article can probably be attributed to a report from Unites States Office of Strategic Services who described Bush's , oops, I mean Hitler's tactics thusly: " His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it."

It's ironic that just as Bush argues that his Iran policy has been a success and Saddam finally comes to trial we learn that the American-supported regime has been practicing the same kind of torture Saddam's regime was noted for. If the NY Times is right, we may not even know the worst of it yet according to an article entitled "U.S. Envoy Says Detainee Abuse Was Worse Than Described" . As I read the story I couldn't help but be reminded of Yeats' famous "The Great Day"

Hurrah for revolution and more cannon-shot!
A beggar upon horseback lashes a beggar on foot.
Hurrah for revolution and cannon come again!
The beggars have changed places, but the lash goes on.

If memory serves me right, America has had precisely the same effect in this region before, specifically when it installed the Shah of Iran in power, a power he maintained mainly through the efforts of the Savak, his secret police. "The Shah suppressed and marginalized opponents with the help of Iran's security and intelligence organization, the Savak, using arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, exile and torture, and exciting profound and widespread discontent. Islamic leaders, particularly the exiled cleric Ayatolah Khomeini, channeled this discontent into a populist Islamist ideology." Does it come as a surprise that his overthrow resulted in a devastating backlash against the Americans in Iran? Wasn't it precisely our interference in Afghanistan that empowered Bin Laden, making him a Muslim hero because he was able to overthrow the Russian infidels? What makes us think that democracy, at least democracy as we know it, can be imposed from the outside as we're trying to do?

The Christian Science Monitor story "If only Iraq's progress could keep pace with American hope" makes it clear that our idea of what "success" would be in Iraq is probably not the same as how most Iraqi's would define "success."

There may be 27 million Iraqis, but what they all want isn't at all clear. Some of them want highly contradictory things - and we are talking about a lot more than red-state/blue-state differences of opinion here. They are differences on things as fundamental as the role of religion, the role of women, and the role of the government itself.

There is the very real question of how many of those 27 million Iraqis even really want to be Iraqis. Some may want to be residents of Kurdistan or even Iran - ideas that might challenge the idea of a free and stable Iraq. Iraq, in its infancy, is just beginning to deal with the issue of what it wants to be when it grows up. What happens Thursday is a first step, but not much more. Any celebration or obituary that quickly follows the results will be misguided.?

While President Bush's goals for Iraq may be the same as most American goals, the likelihood that those goals will be met anytime in my lifetime seem slim at best. Let's hope that our troops won't be there until Iraq can attain the kind of democracy that America has managed to evolve over a considerable span of time and at least one devastating Civil War. Does anyone really believe that America will have the resolve to keep our troops there that long or that the Iraqi people would stand for it even if we wanted to?

4 thoughts on “Success, What’s That?

  1. I really can’t understand why America – and Britain, for that matter – didn’t anticipate that the most likely result of removing Saddam would be to open the doors to the same sort of extreme religious Fundamentalism that swept through Iran after the Shah had been ousted. As for democracy, I tend to agree with HL Mencken who described it as ‘a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance’. But even if we view it in a positive way it seems to me that if America was truly ‘democratic’ it wouldn’t be possible for one party to set such extreme foreign policy agendas with the support of barely half the voting population. It’s even stranger in the UK, because we have a Socialist government, who should – in theory – be opposed in principle to our very undemocratic meddling in Middle East politics. And why our ostensibly left-wing Prime Minister, Tony Blair, should have enthusiastically leapt into the pocket of one of the most right-wing politicians on the planet is completely beyond me.

  2. I’m no supporter of this war, but it was heartening to see so many Iraqis vote today. Maybe with the broad Sunni participation we’ll see a drop in the insurgency.

  3. I have a link on my blogroll to a paper written in 1998 about democracy and Iran called ‘After the Tocqueville Revival’. The writer, Donald Pease, Avalon Professor of the Humanities, compares Khatami’s reading of Tocqueville with that of the editors of The New Republic. His conclusion is inescapable. Khatami actually read and understood ‘Democracy in America’.

What do you think?