Posted by Lexington Green on November 20th, 2003 (All posts by Lexington Green)
My friend whom I refer to here as Paris Lawyer Pundit sent me an article entitled “The French Were Right”. (Available here. ) He asked archly in his cover email whether it “made by blood boil”.
My response to PLP was as follows:
I skimmed it. I’ll read it all later. It does not make my blood boil. My anger at France was not that they disagreed with what Bush wanted to do, or that there were not arguments against what Bush wanted to do. I am angry with them for being dishonest and underhanded in their dealings with us, for being motivated by a desire to thwart the US rather than offer anything constructive. I also note this writer is using the dishonest trope that Bush said a threat was “imminent”. That is false and this writer and anyone paying attention knows it. What Bush said (I could get you the quote) is that we will not wait until a threat from Saddam becomes imminent. What Bush and his team have undertaken in Iraq is wildly ambitious. I said so at the time. I actually tend to agree with the people Bush is dismissing, who worry that Muslims are categorically incapable of creating a democratic society, that they need a dictator to keep minimal order. But Bush has bet on Fukayama rather than Huntington, so away we go. The “liberation of Iraq” may end up being pie in the sky, a last gasp of Wilsonian/Gladstonian do-goodism before we get down to the serious work of waging and winning a Huntingtonian civilizational struggle to the death against the Islamic world. It will make the destruction of the North American indians look like a minor dustup. If the Iraq effort fails, the Democrats and, I suppose, the French, get to clean it up. Nonetheless, I am far less pessimistic than this writer. We have made a lot of progress in Iraq. We are not in a “quagmire”. We are not publicizing our successes against the enemy, because we will not repeat the Vietnam “body count” mentality. Once Bush gets past this next election, which will be close but which he will probably win, the Baathist remnants and jihadi infiltrators are going to face even tougher opposition. We will be able to hand over day-to-day policing to the Iraqis and use our forces for warfighting. As the commander of the 82nd Airborne said, quoting Viscount Slim of Burma, we will use a sledgehammer to crack a walnut. We have the big sledgehammer. We are getting better and better intelligence every day. We are convincing the Iraqi people, who don’t like us and don’t have to like us, that we won’t leave them to the jackals. So they will bet on the big dog, us. So, I am cautiously optimistic.
I have since read the whole thing. The article is seriously wrong in several respects. Just as Iraq is not Vietnam, it is not Algeria either, for starters. I trust this bit of hokum will circulate around the net and be sternly fisked by somebody with the time and willpower to wade into it.
Striking a more scholarly note, Eliot Cohen lays out just how ugly it would be if Bush were to “cut and run” in Iraq. He won’t do that.
I note that in the joint news conference today, Tony Blair spoke in his usual stirring fashion about the universality of the desire for freedom:
And I believe that if people are given the chance to have freedom, whatever part of the world they’re in, whatever religion they practice, whatever faith they have, if they’re given the chance to have freedom, they welcome it. And I think it is the most appalling delusion that actually affects some people even within our own societies that somehow, though we in our countries love freedom and would defend freedom, somehow other people in other parts of the world don’t like it.
And the reason why they like freedom is because then, if you’ve got freedom and democracy, and the rule of law, you can raise your family, you can earn a decent standard of living, you can go about your daily business without fear of the secret police or terrorism. And in those types of societies, the terrorists who thrive on hatred and fanaticism, they get no breathing ground, they get no breathing space.
My concern is not that the desire for these things isn’t universal — it is. My concern is that the cultural. psychological and institutional frameworks any given group of people have inherited may not equip them to successfully implement “freedom and democracy, and the rule of law”. Blair is an optimist. I note that one old-timer who emphatically does not agree is Richard Pipes, whom some of you will remember as a scholar of Russian and Soviet history and a hardline member of the Reagan administration.
Pipes has some misgivings about the most recent application, in Iraq, of the approach he helped formulate. “I think the war was correct — destroying this invasive evil. But beyond this I think they’re too ambitious,” he says. He bluntly dismisses the promise of a democratic Iraq — “impossible, a fantasy” — citing obstacles similar to Russia’s. “Democracy requires, among other things, individualism — the breakdown of old clannish, tribal organizations, the individual standing face-to-face with the state. You don’t have that in the Middle East. Iraq is tribally run.”
My heart’s with Blair, my head, to some extent, with Pipes. Fingers crossed.
But that doesn’t mean the French were right. No way.
Incidentally, I think Howard Dean should use this as a campaign slogan: “US Out of Iraq Now! The French Were Right!”