Monday, October 01, 2007

Fighting Fire With Fire

The title of this post may not seem immediately relevant, but you'll see what I mean when you read this essay (part I of two parts) from Professor emeritus of history Paul W. Schroeder in this month's American Conservative magazine. The advantage being a historian can bring to current issues is the ability to see the forest for the trees, and Schroeder takes a step way back to get at the heart of what's really wrong with our mission in Iraq:

Americans, especially in this administration, seem oblivious to the disconnect between the characteristics and persona of America as a country and people and the ideals it supposedly pursues in Iraq. The U.S. is Western; it is imperialist in the sense of leading Western expansion into the non-Western world; it is overwhelmingly Christian, strongly pro-Israel, individualistic, and materialist in spirit, culture, and lifestyle; it is capitalist, rich, and extremely powerful. Unlike other American traits like self-preoccupation, provincialism, and widespread ignorance of other peoples’ languages, culture, and history, these are basic American characteristics that we will not change, and in many respects should not want to. Collectively, however, they disqualify America from being a direct agent of the fundamental changes we are trying to promote in Iraq or the Arab and Muslim worlds. The United States is an alien presence in that world, and a highly intrusive one, with bases, fleets, capital, and corporations, an invasive and subversive culture, and now an occupying Army. It is not merely the way the United States has conducted itself in Iraq that has fomented resistance and turned it into a breeding ground for more Islamic terrorism. It is the simple fact that being what we are, we are there at all.

He makes this point clear with an apt historical analogy:

At one point in the 16th century, when Western Christendom was being torn apart by the Protestant Reformation and the attendant struggles and wars, the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman proposed that he be invited to arbitrate the theological disputes and help restore peace in Europe. This may not have been a cynical ploy. He was both a very powerful and fairly enlightened ruler. His favorite wife was a Christian, and Christians in the Ottoman Empire, though discriminated against, were recognized as People of the Book and were not widely persecuted or forcibly converted to Islam. Yet can anyone suppose that European Christians, however divided internally, could seriously consider this offer as a sincere attempt to help them, coming as it did from infidels and historic enemies of Christianity who had just conquered huge sections of southeastern Europe, almost capturing Vienna, and still menaced the whole Mediterranean?

Such is how many in the Arab world see us. We get easily distracted by our own good intentions and fail to see that what the Arabs see are troops, sanctions, blockades, unwavering support of Israel, and television programs and music they find to be offensive and subversive. And yet in our naivete, we thought we could invade the country, kill thousands of Iraqis as a result, upset the sectarian order, and still produce a functional democracy. From a distance, a neutral observer would almost certainly ask "what were you smoking?"

What we must remember is that for all the talk about a "surge" and "redeployment" and "metrics" and "timelines", we don't belong in Iraq. We never have. We will not bring peace to the people, but only delay an ultimate reckoning between warring sides. Our interests-and theirs-are best served by us leaving in a timely manner.


adam said...

It's astounding how little the people in charge of our foreign policy know about the Middle East and how they'll react.

Xanthippas said...

Astounding and horrifying. Our brave little pundits make all sorts of assumptions about how the Arabs of the Middle East will react, and like the paternalistic colonialists of the 19th century, they are almost always wrong.