compulsory reading, Iraq, oddly enough, Political Theory, US Politics

A Tale of Perle and Pirls

So Baghdad sort of fell today. The Iraqi regime seems to have disappeared overnight. This is clearly a very good thing. I still believe that this war was unnecessary as well as unwise and I still believe that it is going to be far more costly – monetarily as well as in lives and in terms of international security – than the US administration seems to have reckoned in their calculations. And it is not over yet.

But I am ready to admit that I was moved by the Iraqi people welcoming the US troops – and I felt reminded of the tales my parents told me about US soldiers handing out chocolate to starving German toddlers after WW2. Whatever the regime that will follow on the US military government will be like, whether authoritarian, in order to handle the ethnic clashes and distributive conflicts that will in all likelihood arise now, or possibly truly democratic – as Paul Wolfowitz said today, paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln, a government of the Iraqi people, by the Iraqi people, for the Iraqi people – life in Iraq will in all likelihood be better in the future than it was in the past. And not just because of the “tax refunds” some Iraqis claimed today in the form of previously administration-owned furniture.

However, for the time being, I still do not share the US neoconservatives’ assessment that the American Prometheus can indeed bring good governance and enlightenment to the middle east. Certainly not within a few years. And that’s a huge part of the problem. The Saudis welcomed the US in 1990. Four years later, they were already regarded as semi-occupiers of Islamic holy land. Candy for kids is not going to modernize the region by itself. Just as Brad DeLong notes today

… we could still turn operational victory into strategic defeat, and harm the national security of the United States. The story the world needs to tell itself is that the United States overthrew a cruel dictator and gave Iraqis a much better life, not the out-of-control United States bombed and invaded a small country because President Bush wanted to get his hands on its oil.

I suppose, there is indeed a tiny, tiny chance that social modernisation by tank could work. And it remains tiny, even though the professionalism of the allied troops that made this war a short campaign without too many civilian victims has clearly increased it significantly. But however minuscule it is, the US has – against the will of many – committed itself and the rest of “the west” to embark on this adventure.

I contend I do not believe it will work. But this is a problem where I would love to be proven wrong in the end. If all goes well, I am hereby inviting Richard Perle to publicly lecture me in, say, 15 years about the right attitude in international relations with the following fable. It was, interestingly enough, part of the recently published “The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study” (PIRLS) which assessed a range of reading comprehension strategies of ten year olds in 35 countries. I thought about adapting it to “Weasel heralds the War!” but then decided against it – after all, it is a fable that is very likely to remain just that.

Hare Heralds the Earthquake
by Rosalind Kerven

There was once a hare who was always worrying. “Oh dear,” he muttered all day long, “oh deary, deary me.” His greatest worry was that there might be an earthquake. “For if there was,” he said to himself, “whatever would become of me?”

He was feeling particularly anxious about this one morning, when suddenly an enormous fruit fell down from a nearby tree – CRASH! – making the whole earth shake. The hare leaped up. “Earthquake!” he cried. And with that he raced across the fields to warn his cousins.

“Earthquake! Run for your lives!” All the hares left the fields and madly followed him. They raced across the plains, through forests and rivers and into the hills warning more cousins as they went. “Earthquake! Run for your lives!” All the hares left the rivers and plains, the hills and forests and madly followed. By the time they reached the mountains, ten thousand hares pounded like thunder up the slopes. Soon they reached the highest peak. The first hare gazed back to see if the earthquake was coming any closer, but all he could see was a great swarm of speeding hares. Then he looked in front but all he could see was more mountains and valleys and, far in the distance, the shining blue sea.

As he stood there panting, a lion appeared. “What’s happening?” he asked. “Earthquake, earthquake!” babbled all the hares. “An earthquake?” asked the lion. “Who has seen it? Who has heard it?” “Ask him, ask him!” cried all the hares, pointing to the first one. The lion turned to the hare.

“Please Sir,” said the hare shyly, “I was sitting quietly at home when there was a terrible crash and the ground shook and I knew it must be a quake, Sir, so I ran as fast as I could to warn all the others to save their lives.” The lion looked at the hare from his deep, wise eyes.

“My brother, would you be brave enough to show me where this dreadful disaster happened?”

The hare didn’t really feel brave enough at all, but he felt he could trust the lion. So, rather timidly, he led the lion back down the mountains and the hills, across the rivers, plains, forests and fields, until at last they were back at his home.

“This is where I heard it, Sir.” The lion gazed around – and very soon he spotted the enormous fruit which had fallen so noisily from its tree. He picked it up in his mouth, climbed onto a rock and dropped it back to the ground. CRASH! The hare jumped. “Earthquake! Quickly – run away – it’s just happened again!”

But suddenly he realized that the lion was laughing. And then he saw the fruit rocking gently by his feet. “Oh,” he whispered, “it wasn’t really an earthquake after all, was it?” “No,” said the lion, “it was not and you had no need to be afraid.” “What a silly hare I’ve been!”

The lion smiled kindly. “Never mind, little brother. All of us – even I – sometimes fear things we cannot understand.” And with that he padded back to the ten thousand hares that were still waiting on top of the mountain, to tell them that it was now quite safe to go home.