Thursday, February 19, 2004

bombing your way to democracy
Ryan at Beatnik Salad expresses some frustration over the ongoing self-righteousness of the pro-war left, and especially their tendency to lump everyone who opposed the war together with those who now explicitly support the Iraqi insurgents, as with Tariq Ali here.

Sooner or later, all foreign troops will have to leave Iraq. If they do not do so voluntarily, they will be driven out. Their continuing presence is a spur to violence. When Iraq's people regain control of their own destiny they will decide the internal structures and the external policies of their country. One can hope that this will combine democracy and social justice…

Well, we can all hope can’t we? Like Ryan, I don’t believe that the bombers and snipers themselves offer much of a programme for a new Iraq. But maybe unlike Ryan, I do think that they are pushing a process forward by which Iraq stands more chance of getting a government which has reasonable autonomy and expresses at least some of the will of the majority of the Iraqi people, whatever the motives of the insurgents themselves.

And we don’t know much about these motives. Killing so-called traitors was also a habit of the Algerian FLN and the Vietnamese Stalinists. I don’t recall there being much of a problem on the left about supporting either of these groups against colonialism. Are the Iraqi insurgents really so much wrose than the Vietnamese stalinists, and are the IGC any better than the various thugs and buffoons who ran South Vietnam?

And besides, the whole pro-war argument rests on the notion that, in fact, you can bomb your way to democracy. Here’s how the rebels are doing it.

According to plan A, once Iraq was occupied it was to remain under direct US control for anything up to 18 months, with Washington also taking responsibility for the constitutional arrangements under which Iraq would be governed after that period. That plan was changed last November under pressure from Grand Ayatollah Sistani, representing the moral force of moderate Shia opinion and by the insurgents, representing the immoral force of militant nationalists, islamists and Allah knows who else. It’s Sistani who represents the peaceful option and at least the chance of a graceful US exit from Iraqi politics, but it’s the bombers who have kept Iraq on the front pages for the wrong reasons and forced the US to take the Shi’a option more seriously, if only to increase the chances of its own electoral survival. And every outrage committed by the insurgents makes Sistani’s goodwill more important to the United States, and so tends to increase the chance that Iraqi Shia will finally get fair representation in the state in which they form a majority.

I don't believe for a minute that this is why the insurgents are doing what they're doing. I'm making a case based on a brutal political calculation. But brutal political calculations are a natural consequence of invasion and occupation. Shall “we” let the Kurds establish their own state in the North, even though this would almost certainly lead to more ethnic cleansing of Arabs? How much shall “we” indulge Shi’a majoritarianism, even if it involves a politics of extensive confessional revenge on the Sunni. Maybe “we” should counter this by indulging the terrorism of Sunni insurgents. After all, “we” can’t go having a pan-Shi’ite Islamic movement leading to an Iraq firmly under Iranian control. Or maybe “we” can, to keep the Bin Ladens of the future occupied in their own backyard instead of ours.

As of now, anyone who wants to evolve a realistic vision of the future of Iraq also has to decide which Iraqis he or she would prefer to see robbed and/or killed. This is what we can thank the invasion for, and moral responsibility for this lies with those who supported that invasion.