Babbitt Got Some Things Right

Mudville notes a run-of-the-mill business exposition, except, well, except its very ordinariness hints at the extraordinary:

The weeklong “Rebuild Iraq 2006” drew some 20,000 businesspeople and more than 1,000 exhibitors from 50 countries – all in search of ways to enter the Iraqi market or increase their business there.

It is easy to satirize what can seem forced or even manic good cheer at Chamber of Commerce gatherings, but such a convention is a sign of health & indicates a practical sense that a strong (& therefore peaceful) economy lies in the future.

Iraqpundit argues that the always helpful & extensive Brookings numbers indicate:

Iraqis are using their freedom to improve their personal lives and, in the process, to build their country. One of the most infuriating aspects of the Western media’s presentation of Iraq is that Iraqis themselves are reduced to being the bleeding, mourning victims of terror; they are bit players in a narrative that is about Bush wrecking the country. The material in the Brookings report not only credits Iraqis with initiative, it restores to them the dignity that the Western media’s one-dimensional presentation denies them.

We, in our institutions and our guts value (for all its sometimes wrongheadedness) the self-reliance of Emerson; we see each individual as well as each community as well as each country capable of taking responsibiity for itself. We see ourselves as defined by ourselves, our nation as defined by itself. That is how we became a people defined by creed. This differs from those who see others as defined by their neediness and patronized by their betters. (Indeed, who believe in a fatalism we sometimes associate with the Naturalists.)

Instead, in Iraq, in the humdrum world of commerce, personal responsibility can grow; indeed, “[e]ven the governor of the restive Sunni Anbar province was in attendance, along with 100 entrepreneurs from Fallujah.” Next to the strong & transparent rule of law and the open marketplace of ideas, surely little is more encouraging about Iraq’s future than open commerce. U.S. officials note “a new initiative by the US State and Defense Departments” encourages “private sector development in Iraq’s provinces.”

It would be harsh, unrealistic and wrong to suggest that such an approach would solve the problems now in Darfur. It is not, however, unrealistic to argue that such an approach could be usefully applied in other war-torn & dismal areas under the protection of other authorities. This optimism & belief in the future by American Jews led them to pay for the hothouses of Jews retreating from Gaza. Those potential bases for a productive & independent future were immediately looted & destroyed by those rigidly fixed on a past, with its never-to-be-assuaged grievances.

And, if Babbitt reminds us business isn’t exactly a saintly calling, we might remember that generally it is a useful and productive one. Sinclair Lewis was pitiless as was Arthur Miller in the next generation. That there was some truth to their observations all of us may acknowledge; that there was a greater truth to them, I’m less sure.

9 thoughts on “Babbitt Got Some Things Right”

  1. The real story of any country can best be determined by watching how people vote with their feet and their money. The media can take snapshots but they can’t seem to capture the truth of how millions of people evaluate the conditions by the economic choices they make.

  2. It appears the Iraqi’s are voting with their feet:

    “In the last 10 months, the state has issued new passports to 1.85 million Iraqis, 7 percent of the population and a quarter of the country’s estimated middle class. The school system offers another clue: Since 2004, the Ministry of Education has issued 39,554 letters permitting parents to take their children’s academic records abroad. The number of such letters issued in 2005 was double that in 2004, according to the director of the ministry’s examination department. Iraqi officials and international organizations put the number of Iraqis in Jordan at close to a million. Syrian cities also have growing Iraqi populations.”

    from the Christian Science Monitor – 5/22/06

  3. Care to hazard a guess as to the ethnicity and political orientation of most of the emigrating Iraqis? I would. Meanwhile Iraqis who fled during the Baathist period are returning in large numbers and the economy is booming. Seems to me, on balance, to be a pretty good situation, considering what life was like under the dictatorship.

  4. The message is clearly mixed, but Reynolds links to various interpretations. Perhaps the se argument are best summarized by the experience of Omar at Iraq the Model:

    The other day I was with some friends at home and the subject eventually surfaced “let’s just wait for another six months, I’m sure things will improve by then” one friend said and I nodded in agreement “I’m not willing to take the risk, what if I get killed or kidnapped tomorrow or next month!? I’m leaving Iraq to live somewhere else until I believe it’s safe to return, we live only once guys!” and I nodded in agreement too.Both opinions make a lot of sense and I could never say the first friend was a coward since he’s still living through what I and the other friend are living through.I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and so do many people but they wonder if the tunnel is going to collapse before we reach its end.

    Amir Tehari’s article in Commentary is quoted at some length by Reynolds, but, reading its whole provides a great deal of perspective & data.

    The Christian Science Monitor story is
    heavily dependent upon the New York Times one, which is discussed in later links at Instapundit’s post.

  5. The news reports appear to agree on one topic: Large numbers of Iraqis are leaving the country. Who is leaving and why they are leaving might be up for debate. We can only answer these questions based upon the news reports and try to discern patterns within the reports, if we are trying to understand the situation.

    “Iraqi Christians are fleeing “because of the difficulties of practising their faith and leading normal social lives in a country that has turned conservative due to the threats from extremists”

    “Soon after the August 2004 church bombings, reports from the Iraq-Syria border indicated 40,000 Iraqi Christians had fled to Damascus and Aleppo, with thousands more crossing into Turkey.

    “La Civita says figures from the Holy See indicate less than 300,000 Catholics (Chaldean, Syriac and Armenian Catholics) remain in Iraq”

    “Tens of thousands of mostly young Iraqi professionals, artisans, musicians, college professors and doctors have left in search of security and stability abroad.

    Zeyad Alwan*, 30, a doctor in Baghdad, says the carnage in the city has convinced him he must leave by any means possible.”

    “As far as Iraqis leaving the country, estimates range from 500,000 to 1 million since the war in Iraq began in 2003.

    It is an ominous sign, signaling what could happen if sectarian violence spreads throughout the country, and the country descends into civil war,” said Roberta Cohen, a world refugees and foreign policy scholar for the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.”

  6. Mike,

    Are you saying “the news reports appear to agree” because each of the following paragraphs are from different sources? They appear to all be from Al-Jazeera. (Perhaps you found them in another source – that is what came up first when I googled them.)

    I see a rep from the Brookings Institute is quoted. O’Hanlon has a displaced persons stat but not an overall refugee count. Certainly, others argue as you do that many are leaving. But much in the Brookings reports counter your impressions.

    And your statement that “news reports seem to agree” ignores some of the data, most particularly that from the Tehari article. Indeed, his argument is the opposite:

    Since the toppling of Saddam in 2003, this is one highly damaging image we have not seen . . . Iraqis, far from fleeing, have been returning home. By the end of 2005, in the most conservative estimate, the number of returnees topped the 1.2-million mark. Many of the camps set up for fleeing Iraqis in Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia since 1959 have now closed down. The oldest such center, at Ashrafiayh in southwest Iran, was formally shut when its last Iraqi guests returned home in 2004.A second dependable sign likewise concerns human movement, but of a different kind. This is the flow of religious pilgrims to the Shiite shrines in Karbala and Najaf. Whenever things start to go badly in Iraq, this stream is reduced to a trickle and then it dries up completely. From 1991 (when Saddam Hussein massacred Shiites involved in a revolt against him) to 2003, there were scarcely any pilgrims to these cities. Since Saddams fall, they have been flooded with visitors. In 2005, the holy sites received an estimated 12 million pilgrims, making them the most visited spots in the entire Muslim world, ahead of both Mecca and Medina.Over 3,000 Iraqi clerics have also returned from exile, and Shiite seminaries, which just a few years ago held no more than a few dozen pupils, now boast over 15,000 from 40 different countries. This is because Najaf, the oldest center of Shiite scholarship, is once again able to offer an alternative to Qom, the Iranian holy city where a radical and highly politicized version of Shiism is taught. Those wishing to pursue the study of more traditional and quietist forms of Shiism now go to Iraq where, unlike in Iran, the seminaries are not controlled by the government and its secret police.

    I am sure that we would differ on how much weight each of us would give to Al-Jazeera and how much to Commentary. Needless to say, I trust the latter more. Of Reynolds’ sources, I quoted most heavily the most pessimistic.

    To make the blanket statement “news reports appear to agree” you seem not to have followed any of the links. You can do that and retain your sense that Iraq is a disaster, but you can’t argue that everyone agrees with you.

    (By the way, the Iraqis who went to the trade conference in Jordan with which I began the post would have probably needed passports; such freer movement may be a part of the need for passports. Also, if you are using Arab sources, they might have a better sense of what percentage of those leaving are Baath?)

  7. The news reports appear to agree on one topic: Large numbers of Iraqis are leaving the country…

    So? Migration, including of Christians, was mainly out of Iraq during the Baathist period. Now it goes both ways, with many exiles returning. This seems to me to be a clear indicator of improvement in the country’s fortunes.

    “It is an ominous sign, signaling what could happen if sectarian violence spreads throughout the country, and the country descends into civil war,” said Roberta Cohen, a world refugees and foreign policy scholar for the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

    Translation: The situation in Iraq is improving, though some opponents of US policy, whose predictions have mainly been wrong so far, speculate that things might get a lot worse.

  8. Interesting replies. So I read Mr. Teheri’s article and asked myself the following two questions:

    1. If things are so peachy, why doesn’t he return to Iraq and live there permanently?

    2. If things are so peachy why couldn’t the expo be held in Iraq?

    According to the UNHCR and other sources, from 2003-2005 approximately 315,000 Iraqis have returned to the country, not 1.2 million. Mr. Tehari references no source. I would also suggest reading a report at Relief Web for more information.

    And according to Mr. Tehari, the Baathists are not among those displaced nor fleeing the country; they are fighting side by side with the insurgents. At least that’s what he states in his article.

    Parts of his article were enlightening but overall simplisitic and at times condescending.

    Finally, I do hope that the Iraqi people are able to recover from the many years of repression and war unleashed upon them to ultimately be ‘winners’.

    “We must continue to cry out humbly yet insistently to God: Rouse yourself! Do not forget mankind, your creature! Let us cry out to God, that he may draw men and women to see that violence does not bring peace, but only generates more violence — a morass of devastation in which everyone is ultimately the loser.” Pope Benedict IV

  9. You are arguing against a straw man. We argued that the situation in Iraq is improving, not that it is “peachy.” You initially argued that the situation in Iraq was getting worse. Now it seems you have conceded our point.

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