Elmer Fudd Nation

What David Brooks wrote in his New York Times column today:

The Democratic approach, as articulated by Senator Jim Webb — simply get out of Iraq “in short order” — 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 it’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 — they are still, as David Ignatius says, the biggest militia on the block — 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 ABC’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.

Juan Cole wrote in June 2002,

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.

12 thoughts on “Elmer Fudd Nation

  1. At the core of every thing Brooks does is Israel. No matter the subject, everything begins and ends with consideration for Israel.

  2. My view on the white man causing such a mess: We have all heard that the Indians considered themselves guardians of Mother Earth. What is not well known is that they considered the other races guardians of other elements. Yellow race–guardians of air. Black race–guardians of water. White race–guardians of fire. We all know how destructive fire is when it gets out of control. The white race has not been good guardians because they have not controlled the fire (yang) of the species and the earth plane.. The Chinese philosophy sees the world as a balance of yin/yang. As long as they work cooperatively (as night yielding to day and vice versa) nature will be harmonious. When one gets out of balance, eventually it will collapse and convert to the other. The world is way too “yang” and out of balance so we can expect a conversion to the yin state if we do not do something to correct the imbalance. This can only happen with great disruption and chaos. You can’t mess with Mother Nature

  3. comment 2, The world is way too “yang” and out of balance so we can expect a conversion to the yin state if we do not do something to correct the imbalance.

    Whether you love her or hate her, a President Hillary Clinton would go aways toward redressing this balance, by busting the glass ceiling on the top office in the land. I know you meant your words in a more metaphysical way, but it’s past time we retired the macho adolescents who represent yang’s last gasp. HRC isn’t everything I would like – there is much to dislike – but she at least would pave the way for women to lead.

  4. The ISG recommended and the Democrats generally agree that regionally-based diplomacy is needed. IMO, this has been rejected by the Bush administration because ALL the regional powers want us out – at least to the degree that we can’t dominate with the threat of military force from large permanent bases that are central to the Bush strategy of empire-building in the region.

    Bush honestly believes that he can wage the war on ‘terror’ on a militay basis, and can fight that war in the middle east. We have been in Iraq going on 4 years and are increasing the troop level. Everyone outside the US thinks we intend to permanently occupy Iraq. Most Americans don’t believe in empire-building and therefore don’t believe our govermnent is engaged in it, despite all evidence to the contrary.

    The Democrats have missed an argument that is not beyond the grasp of the average voter. Iraq is not surropunded by Iran and Syria, as Republicans would have you believe. Those dangerous Shiite regimes are to the North. Follow the country’s borders; Kuwait, who was invaded once and would prefer a stable non-aggressive Iraq, Saudi Arabia, who is Suni and could make things nasty for Iraq if they try to annex Iraq, Jordan, who is taking a huge part of the refugee problem and therefore has a huge interest in a fair settlement of the sectarian conflict so Iraqis will go home, and Turkey who will want to protect the interests of the Kurdish minority.

    Keep in mind: the regional powers are not going to clean up the mess of the sectarian violence so neocons can establish regional control. We have to guarantee we will leave if we want them to engage. If they knew that the mess will fall on them; as will the full benefits of a stable Iraq, they have incentive to stabilize Iraq.

    Thirteen colonies had a lot of cultural, economic and religous differences, but they found the way to make the comprimises to form a central governement that gave the new republic of states a chance to survive that they would not have as 13 weak countries.

    The 6 countries surrounding Iraq are not trying to form a central government, but like the thirteen colonies they have incentive to work together because NOT stabilizing Iraq is potentially disasterous.

  5. 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.

    That’s the path America needs to find her way out of Iraq and to find her way home. Unfortunately, we won’t take it because we’d have to give up our pride. We’re Amurikans!

  6. Another great post about the sorry state of today’s world Maha. I was flipping through channels the other day and caught Juan Cole being interviewed on the local ABC affiliate in Detroit. He’s a history professor at the U of M in nearby Ann Arbor. He was very emphatic that Iraq is lost and only several hundred thousand troops can turn it around. He stated further that the only viable solution is a negotiated political settlement involving the Shiites, Sunnis and Iraq’s neighbors.

  7. It’s widely agreed by people who are into truth-telling that to “control” civil unrest, no fewer than 20 military/police personnel per 1,000 natives are needed. That’s what it took in Northern Ireland and Bosnia. (Of course it’s always possible to go the Ghengis Khan route and just slaughter the recalitrant natives.)

    There are roughly 3/1,000 in Iraq. With the coming “surge” it’ll probably be three and one half per one thousand – in Baghdad anyway. Until Iraqis can feel halfway safe, nothing of any consequence can occur in that beleaguered country. The professional classes who have fled by the droves will return. The practically non-existent infrastructure can begin to function again.

    But of course adding hundreds of thousands of troops is impossible – unless we reinstate the draft – and that won’t happen. Is there any other recourse other than pulling out, hopefully in a well-planned retreat?

  8. Maha, I forgot to tell you that you are one of the best writers in this medium. Ivins and Huffington (sometimes) are up there too. Keep it up. We appreciate it.

  9. 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.

    The Repulsicans don’t even have respect for us, the American people, so why would they suddenly decide to respect all them furriners? Of course, you’re right, but it ain’t gonna happen as long as Chimpy&Co. are in charge.

  10. Pingback: The Mahablog » Blown Away

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