Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Magical happyland

Creating an elaborate straw man, Edmund Standing accuses the anti-war left of betraying the Iraqi people. Standing simply invents a ridiculous ideological position for the anti-war left:
the insurgency is presented as a David against the evil US Goliath, a heroic Robin Hoodesque band of revolutionaries seeking to return Iraq to 'the people'. ... [I]t is argued that the moment the last coalition soldier flies out of Iraq, people who currently cry out for Jihad and the creation of an Islamic State will suddenly metamorphose into calm, rational democrats.
At least he gets one thing right:
[The anti-war left puts] forward the message that the only reason coalition troops are still in Iraq is to secure Iraqi oil reserves for a corrupt capitalist cabal, and that the Iraqi people are being denied the right to 'govern themselves'.
Naturally, this position is patently ridiculous. It's notable that Standing does not give a single example of this fatuous straw man. He can't even be bothered to find some dumbass blogger with a single-digit readership to substantiate his position. One hopes that Butterflies and Wheels editor Ophelia Benson published this essay only to give a us an easy target.

The observation that we have invaded Iraq in part to secure its oil (the other part is to be able to project military power conveniently in the Middle East) is actually true and in no way entails that Iraq will somehow be a magical happyland if we end the occupation.

We have invaded a country, deposed its government, and continue to occupy it with hundreds of thousands of troops and mercenaries "contractors". This is blatantly a case of denying the Iraqi people the right to govern themselves. To label such an observation as "propaganda", "ideologically blinded" and "deviously presenting a false image" is so egregiously stupid that one wonders if Standing is capable of putting his shoes on the correct feet.

I read quite a lot of the anti-war left, and I have never seen any sort of illusion or fantasy about the wonders of the "insurgency". I have seen only the observation that resistance to foreign military occupation is not by itself a bad thing—which, of course, it is not.

The occupation of Iraq has nothing to do with making Iraq a democratic country. We already know that putting the issue to a vote would lead to a Shi'ite theocracy that would ally itself with Iran and perpetrate genocide against the Sunni and Kurdish minorities.

The occupation of Iraq has nothing to do with providing Iraq with a "stable" non-democratic government. Iraq already had a stable non-democratic government with Saddam Hussein; if we were to politically stabilize the country, we would have to rule in his "iron fist" mode, which we are manifestly not doing. (One wonders if Standing would approve of such a Soviet-style "government" in Iraq under American auspices. Probably: Standing is a theologian, and they typically approve of authoritarian repression.)

The occupation of Iraq has nothing to do with providing Iraq with a "liberal, Western-style" government. You cannot in principle establish such a government by force; it must emerge from the desire of the people for such a government.

So what's left? Oil and imperialism. Go figure.

There are no illusions that life in Iraq will get worse if and when the occupation were to end. The thing is, life in Iraq is already bad, already worse than under Hussein, and already getting worse with the occupation. The crux of the biscuit is not that things would get magically better if the occupation were to end, but that things cannot begin to improve until sometime after the occupation ends.

Standing says, "[H]ell is exactly what life will become for the average Iraqi should the coalition leave the country to be ruled by the medieval minded hordes of the insurgency." Will become? Standing, how fucking stupid are you? Will become? Life is already hell for the Iraqi people. No electricity, no water, no law, no effective police, no health care, and ceaseless sectarian violence. The occupation is not holding "hell" at bay, we are merely observing hell while we secure our imperialist ambitions.

No, there will be no magical happyland if the occupation ends. That's not the point. The point is that the occupation is evil in itself, and improvement cannot begin until it is over.

If someone were to kidnap and torture another to the point where they suffered Stockholm Syndrome, the victim's life would not become a magical happyland if she were freed; indeed it would, perhaps become temporarily worse (better the devil you know). I have no doubt, though, that Standing is so stupid, so morally corrupt that he would argue against freeing the victim on just that basis.

Perhaps there is a sort of reverse Stockholm Syndrome, where someone engaged in an egregiously evil act begins to justify their behavior as beneficial to the victim. If there were such a syndrome, Standing would be its poster child.


  1. So what's left? Oil and imperialism. Go figure.

    Imperialism is precisely the elephant in the neoconservative living room that fellows like Standling -- whether he self-identifies as neoconservative or not, he is advocating such a view of foreign policy with his op-ed -- are assiduously avoiding. There is an interesting conflict between the inherent idealism and paternalism of the movement: We are supposed to be spreading democracy to people that, they contend, on the other hand are constitutionally incapable of living under it. The only "alternative" to ensure freedom is an imperial model, either that of the British and Ottomans or of the Romans. Either way, imperialism is all that can assure the neoconservative vision of success.

    Standling's vision, in order to be coherent, requires the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq in perpetuity. All the more vexing is his -- and other pro-war interlocutors' -- insistence on a conflation of the different types of actors in Iraq. "Insurgents" is used as a catch-all for all sorts groups, some of whom the U.S. is trying to use as allies of convenience. We have the Sunni tribes in Anbar which, while they hate us really hate al-Qaeda more. There's the various Shi'ite militias, some beholden to Iran, some to Sadr, and some to Sistani's faction (which recently split from Iran). There's Sunni Ba'athists, Sunni militias, pro-Shi'ite government death squads, and, of course, al-Qaeda. Some have a theocratic agenda, some secularly political, and some genocidal. Standling is right that Hell would come to earth for the Iraqis. But it would simply be the torrential outpouring of the boiling seas obscured by the patina of the U.S. occupation.

    Perhaps there is a sort of reverse Stockholm Syndrome, where someone engaged in an egregiously evil act begins to justify their behavior as beneficial to the victim.

    I don't know that there's an official name for this, so I shall propose one: Torquemada Syndrome.

  2. "Torquemada Syndrome"! I like it! (The name, not the syndrome.)

  3. I was curious about how this got onto Butterflies and Wheels myself. While I don't share the editor's political beliefs there is usually something of interest and we all have our own slant on things which is part of what often makes it a good read. But this...this was just weird.


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