Today was an unusual day at CommentIsFree. We had two posts on Iraq from the mouthpieces of the two polar opposites of the Left’s opinion mill on matters regarding Iraq, neither of whom are offering anything more than snake oil.
There was this piece by Oliver Kamm, the verbose used-car salesman of the Decent Left. His dense rhetoric is light on verifiable fact but heavy on stodgy polemic. Reading the article I was none the wiser about the facts on the ground in Iraq but came away with the vision of him in full shadow-boxing mode doing what he does best, score-settling. There is also the pathetic name dropping (Angelina Jolie thinks the ‘surge’ is working and so it must be) and the stock Decent Left pretext for waging war (forget liberal democracy, it was all about snuffing Saddam).
If you believe Saddam Hussein’s regime was a lawful authority of pacific character, the violation of whose sovereignty was comparable to the attack on Pearl Harbour by a xenophobic imperialism, then you might reflect on how easily you confirm the case advanced by Nick Cohen, Christopher Hitchens and me. Your cast of mind is not anti-war, but anti-American and anti-British.
Which brings us neatly to the next article which, funnily enough is by the man Kamm is addressing, Seumas Milne. Milne has been known to take an apologist’s line with Trotskyists, Stalinists, the Muslim Brotherhood, RESPECT, Andrew Murray, George Galloway and possibly any number of other illiberal non-starters. As is to be expected, Milne paints the obligatory dismal picture of the situation in Iraq as a hopeless quagmire. Quagmire it may be, but I refuse to regard it as hopeless in spite of the horrific circumstances of sectarian violence and American trigger-happy hubris.
There is another way to read events in Iraq without having to suffer the filibustering of these two spin doctors. One that is balanced, well-informed, respectful of Iraqi people and most importantly of all: non-partisan. None of which Kamm nor Milne nor their respective supporters can offer.
For starters, we could do worse than consider this article by Robert Springborg on OpenDemocracy: “Uncle Sam in Iraq: the war of narratives”
From this article, we know of the tentacular growth of the US presence:
- the construction in Iraq of sprawling military facilities and a massive US embassy
- continued efforts to build Iraqi security forces that are dependent upon their US counterparts
- negotiation with the dependent Iraqi government of a new legal framework for the continuation of the occupation
- backtracking from earlier commitments to reduce the troop surge and committing itself only to review the situation when the current mandate expires in July 2008 (amidst cautions from US ambassador Ryan Crocker that a new cycle of violence could start if withdrawals â€œwere not handled very carefullyâ€)
- continued holding of Iraqi reserve funds in excess of $27 billion in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York
- doubling of monies to support â€œprovincial reconstruction teamsâ€™ (PRTs)
- enhanced reliance for reconstruction on the militaryâ€™s â€œcommanderâ€™s emergency response programâ€ (Cerp)
- the vetoing in March 2008 of a bill to prevent the CIA from using â€œharsh interrogation methodsâ€ against suspects
- attempts to intensify the Nato campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan
- replacement of democratisation as a foreign-policy objective by support for US-friendly dictators
- steadfast refusal to rename or downgrade the â€œglobal war on terrorâ€
And yet we also learn the positive developments in Iraqi self-governance:
The original thrust into Iraq was intended in part by the Bush administration to break the mould of modern middle-east history. It has succeeded in at least a small way in doing that. Iraq in 2008 is not what it was in 2003, or even in 2006. Both Sunni and Shiâ€™a Iraqis have become disenchanted with nihilistic, sectarian violence and have increasingly turned their back on narrowly sectarian leaders, especially those who wrap their appeal in religion. Iraqi nationalism is stirring and in its emerging variant appears to be anti-Iranian, even among some Shiâ€™a. The longing for peace, security and development has intensified. The size and capacities of the various Iraqi security forces, all trained, equipped and at least indirectly controlled by US forces, have increased. A precarious balance between the central and provincial governments has been established, in part through the work of the USâ€™s provincial reconstruction teams and devolution of budgetary support to the provinces).
We will benefit if we stop falling into the trap of this Milne/Kamm faux-binary. They are a parody unto themselves. The Guardian-reading hand-wringing woolly-liberal who views all developments in Iraq as hopeless versus the self-exalting Muscular Liberal who sees the US presence in Iraq as the one and only shining beacon of light, god and apple pie and all of that without a sliver of doubt. They add nothing to our understanding nor to our solidarity with the people in Iraq who struggle each day in hell and yet are bound to the task of building a secular, liberal democracy.
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Filed in: Middle East