What David Brooks wrote in his New York Times column today:
The Democratic approach, as articulated by Senator Jim Webb â€” simply get out of Iraq â€œin short orderâ€ â€” is a howl of pain that takes no note of the long-term political and humanitarian consequences.
What Jim Webb actually said in his rebuttal to the SOTU (emphasis added):
The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military. We need a new direction. Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos. But an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq’s cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.
I know a lot of you don’t want to listen to any plan that doesn’t include a precipitous withdrawal, and I’ll get to that in a minute. But I want to bash David Brooks first. It’s been a while.
BrooksWorld is a place where critical thinking (along with accuracy) is in short supply. He spends the first half of his column whining that violence and disorder in Iraq are getting worse. Then he whines that Democrats are bad people because they don’t support the strategies that have allowed violence and disorder in Iraq to get worse.
“I for one have become disillusioned with dreams of transforming Iraqi society from the top down,” he says. “But itâ€™s not too late to steer the situation in a less bad direction.” Coming from Brooks, that’s a big clue we’re looking at utter hopelessness. Then Brooks writes,
Increased American forces can do good â€” they are still, as David Ignatius says, the biggest militia on the block â€” provided they are directed toward realistic goals.
Ah yes, David Ignatius. How many ways has Ignatius been wrong on Iraq? I don’t know that numbers go that high. But here are some highlights of Ignatius’s Greatest Misses, compiled by Jeralyn of TalkLeft. Jeralyn concludes with some advice for Ignatius that we might also direct to Brooks. And a lot of other people who haven’t figured out when to STFU:
Don’t worry about what the Democrats might do. Try and figure out how you got it so spectacularly wrong first and explain to us why you did. Once you do that, then maybe we can talk.
Brooks admits that the Bush plan isn’t working —
The weakness of the Bush surge plan is that it relies on the Maliki government to somehow be above this vortex. But there are no impartial institutions in Iraq, ready to foster reconciliation. As ABCâ€™s Jonathan Karl notes in The Weekly Standard, the Shiite finance ministries now close banks that may finance Sunni investments. The Saadrist health ministries dismiss Sunni doctors. The sectarian vortex is not fomented by extremists who are appendages to society. The vortex is through and through.
But Brooks has decided the way to straighten things out is by a “soft partition” of Iraq — dividing Iraq into separate sectarian sections to “restore order,” and then allowing the central government to “handle oil revenues and manage the currency, etc.” Exactly how that central government wouldn’t end up being dominated by Shiites, and exactly why those Shiites wouldn’t continue to make life hell for Sunnis, Brooks doesn’t say. He seems to think Iraqis are children who will settle down once they’re not sitting next to each other.
Upper-class white men have pretty much dominated the planet for the past couple of centuries or so; much longer, in some places. If you spend much time reading history, you’ll notice that those upper-class white men had a deep and largely misplaced faith in their own superiority of judgment. Their tendency to think well of themselves came from racism, sexism, and the fact that people born into privileged circumstances usually are sheltered from the consequences of their own mistakes. Thus, a whole lot of global history from 1800 to the current day consists of greedy delusional white male assholes mucking things up.
A large part of the crises we face in the world today — in Africa, the Middle East, Asia — can be traced back to The Day the White Man Came. Through the 19th and 20th centuries mostly European powers gained control of other nations, crushed their political and social infrastructures, stripped them of their resources, and left their people in abject poverty and political chaos.
Indeed, the nation of Iraq came into existence at the hands of Europeans, who re-drew the political borders of the Middle East as they fought World War I. “The borders were thus based on British imperial and commercial interests and the fortunes of war rather than being drawn along traditional frontiers or historic tribal or ethnic lines,” says this guy.
Such adventures as the Soviets in Afghanistan, the French in Algeria, and the British in the Gulf, Palestine and South Asia have unexpectedly given birth to demons for our 21st century world. Imperialism depended on dominating, humiliating and exploiting others, and on drawing artificial boundaries for European strategic purposes. The way out is not, as some are now saying, a new wave of Western imperialism. That is how we got here in the first place. It is the fashioning of a world of equals in which Muslims receive the same rights as others, to self-determination or enough autonomy to foster self-respect. Only when the age of colonialism is truly over can the postcolonial wars end.
Instead, we’ve got Brooks and Ignatius and others sitting in their leather chairs in their well-appointed offices and thinking that if we just keep tweaking, we’ll get those natives to settle down eventually.
Juan Cole pointed out yesterday, “It is odd that US media seem completely uninterested in how Bush’s State of the Union speech was received in Iraq, where half of it would be implemented.” Not odd at all; we still think of the populations of non-white places not as people we should work with, but as a problem to solve.
What’s rich about all this is that our country was founded after an overthrow of imperial rule. The indigenous populations of the Western Hemisphere were so decimated by war and disease that, in thirteen of the British colonies of North America, whites became the dominant and majority population. And lo, in the 18th century some of those whites felt that they were being jerked around and exploited by a far-away King, so they rebelled. As the colonies became a nation the former colonists adopted the mythos that Americans were better. Unlike the privileged dandies of Europe, Americans were tough and practical. Oh, and egalitarian, although how a people who kept slaves and marched the Cherokee to Oklahoma saw themselves as egalitarian is a testament to Man’s Capacity to Bullshit Himself. But we grew to love the Common Man, or so we thought, and to this day our political and business leaders just love to tell us how they rose from poverty and overcame hardship.
(If they can’t tell us they rose from poverty, then they tell us about the simple virtues of their immigrant grandparents. Barring that, they pretend Jesus helped them overcome alcoholism. They’ve got to overcome something.)
In American mythos European leaders were born in palaces, while our guys were born in log cabins. European leaders were a pack of inbred twits, while ours were street smart and hard working. They were Elmer Fudd; we were Bugs Bunny.
But the joke is that, somehow, we grew an aristocracy anyway. Our public intellectuals — i.e., Brooks and Ignatius — are twits. That they are respected for their insight just shows we ain’t livin’ in a meritocracy. And the President of the United States is the pure distillation of inbred classism and the arrogance of unearned privilege, albeit with an affected Texas accent.
Our government and its corporate backers treat the rest of the world and the poor of our own country with the same clueless arrogance we used to despise in Europeans. We aren’t Bugs Bunny any more.
I agree with Juan Cole — Only when the age of colonialism is truly over can the postcolonial wars end. And, applying that to Iraq, I think we need to extract ourselves in the least imperialist way possible.
And I think Webb (and Wesley Clark) is right that the first step to withdrawal is “an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy.” Just leaving is, I think, another form of imperialist arrogance. We need to consult — and that means listen to, not dictate — with the people who are going to be left with the mess. That includes the nations bordering Iraq, including Syria and Iran, as well as the various factions within Iraq.
Of course we can’t allow ourselves to be bogged down in endless negotiations; withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq must begin as soon as possible. But if the U.S. started to show some genuine respect for the sovereign nations and people of the Middle East it would do both us and them a world of good.
As for Brooks and Ignatius and the Bushies and the neocons — buy them some Risk board games and let them enjoy their fantasies in a less harmful way.