Tuesday, February 05, 2008

If Only You Could See What I've Seen with Your Eyes

Gershom Gorenberg has an excellent piece (web only) in The American Prospect that discusses the tendency on the part of US policy makers to ignore regional imperatives and local interests in favor of a US-centric interpretation of any and all events worldwide. Gorenberg's piece - if more eloquent - tracks nicely with a theme that I have been trying to hammer away at in various contexts: from non-proliferation to counterterrorism to regional politics. A taste from Gorenberg:

Ever since it turned out that Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction were the equivalent of a toy pistol in a bank robber's hand, people have wondered why he maintained the illusion. The suggestion I've heard in café conversations in Jerusalem always made most sense to me: Saddam was much more scared of Iran than of the United States, and wanted at least the silhouette of a deterrent. This was a bad gamble, but then so was invading Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. To the extent that the Bush administration convinced itself, and not just the public, that the toy was real, it failed to consider what the Middle East looked like from the inside. It regarded Iran and Iraq as co-members of an anti-American "axis of evil." But Saddam had more enemies than just America. And rulers of Mesopotamia have been afraid of Persia for much longer than the United States has been part of the picture.

... Put differently, [the Bush Administration] ignored the Iranian and Iraqi nationalism that led the two countries to war in the past. Imagining an Iraqi democracy, Bush and Co. also ignored the internal communal battle that would be released when Saddam was gone. The American invasion has eliminated the counterbalance to Iran and increased its power in the region.

Something about the dynamic described by Gorenberg occurred to me when reading a brief snippet from Juan Cole today [emphasis added]:

The US military on Monday mistakenly bombed a home in Iskandariya south of Baghdad, killing 13 persons including women and a child, according to Iraq police. They blamed indirect and faulty communication with the local Awakening Council. There will be more outrage about this incident in Iraq than will be reported in the US press.

That sentence speaks a simple truth, but one that is frequently ignored or disregarded in the ongoing effort by Iraq war hyperpartisans to blame the disastrous outcomes on an insufficiently enthusiastic/supportive press corp and domestic political opposition. Arthur Chrenkoff enjoyed a successful, if brief, blogospheric career based almost entirely on bringing the Anglo world the "good news" from Iraq - the good news that the mainstream media wouldn't report (leaving aside the fact that Chrenkoff mostly just linked to and excerpted reporting from the supposedly negligent mainstream media). To paraphrase the familiar Chrenkoff-themed complaint, "Sure the media reports about bombings, beheadings and body counts, but what about all the painted schools?"

The irony is, however, that no matter how bad the Western media portrayed the situation in Iraq, there was more outrage felt by Iraqi citizens about the actual incidents in Iraq than the US press would ever convey. To state a tautology: the spectacle of "Shock and Awe" looked infinitely more majestic from the satellite feeds beaming into American living rooms than it did up close and personal where you could smell the burning flesh, hear the shrieks of terror and see the bits of human body sprayed across the wide angle shot.

It is in this callous solipsism that we ignore the most important character in the Iraq war tragedy, a play still in search of its final act. That overlooked protagonist is the Iraqi people themselves. The prospect of "victory" in terms of achieving the lofty aims of the war has never been about the volume of applause in Peoria, the number of "feel good" stories printed for the reading pleasure of Americans or the magnitude of Bush's approval ratings. Claiming that the level of enthusiasm displayed by various demographics in America is determinant of the outcome strips the Iraqi people of their legitimate interests, their agency, their complexity, their right to demand autonomy, to reject foreign intervention and, in the end, their humanity.

Still, despite what Gorenberg describes as a "long string of disastrous miscalculations" there are those paving the way for the next big catastrophe by painting a cartoonish version of Iran - a country alleged to have mass suicidal tendencies that is consumed by irrational hatred of America. In terms of being suicidal, the opposite is true: to the extent that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapons program, it almost undoubtedly does so out of a motive of self-preservation and regional powerplay.

Regarding the suggestion that Iran has nothing to fear from us, or that their animosity to the US is unfounded, rarely if ever is it mentioned that the US helped overthrow Iran's democratically elected leader in the 1950s, propped up a brutal dictator until he was overthrown in the late 1970s, and then encouraged and supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran throughout the 1980s. A war that led to close to one million Iranian casualties. It would seem that Iran is following a very rational course of action considering the fact that such a long time hostile power has over 150,000 troops on its borders led by a President proud of his "wartime" credentials.

The level of Iran demagoguery has gotten so bad, that recent New York Times hire William Kristol even suggested that after a bombing campaign by the US, there would be a regime-toppling uprising led by a contingent of pro-US Iranians who would embrace us despite the fact that we just incinerated thousands of their friends, family members and countrymen.

In reality, there would be more outrage about this incident in Iran than would be reported in the US press.

(cross-posted to AmFoot)

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