Monday, June 19, 2006

Pottery Barn vs. Bull in the China Shop

Digby links to a June 6 cable sent by the American Embassy and signed by Khalizad to the American Secretary of State outlining the dire conditions under which their employees in Iraq have to work. It paints a very bleak picture: Creeping Taliban-like dress codes (“Indeed, she said, some groups are pushing women to cover even their face, a step not taken in Iran even at its most conservative.”), lack of electricity, paranoia that someone will discover they work at the embassy, threats of kidnapping, and a general sense of anxiety are making life for employees very difficult.

[UPDATE: Atrios links to this memo as well and comments that it "isn't getting much play". Let's see if our left-wing noise machine can change that. I bet it will.]
[UPDATE 2: Sullivan's got it now, too. I think the blogosphere is going to push this into the spotlight.]

Of course, for those of us in the reality-based community, this isn’t too shocking. We’ve been hearing this kind of stuff for some time now. But this document (if genuine-always keep in mind that strange documents turning up may not be the real deal) is interesting because it comes from Khalizad and was sent to the Secretary of State. So it’s some inside insight into what our ambassador really thinks is going on, and what he’s telling our administration.

So what is an anti-war person supposed to do with this kind of information? To me, there’s a lot of force behind the “Pottery Barn” argument: we broke it, so we own it, so it’s our responsibility to fix it. Straightforward and simple and clear. And if I thought this administration could “fix it”, I might be persuaded by this argument. But it seems to me that this administration can’t do it. In fact, it appears to me that this administration doesn’t even take the Iraq war that seriously. What!?!? Oh sure, they talk about staying the course ad nauseam, but I don’t see any actions that show they take what’s going on seriously.

If the folks in this administration actually took the war as seriously as they claim to, they’d get rid of Rumsfeld. (To Rumsfeld’s credit, he did offer to resign. It’s Bush who’s kept him on. And for all my frustration with Andrew Sullivan’s intermittent support of this war, he and I are of one mind on this point.) If they took this war seriously, they would make sure this country could pay for it. If they took this war seriously, they’d ask Americans to sacrifice for victory. If they took this war seriously, they’d come down like a hammer on anything that smacked of torture or mistreatment of Iraqis. If they took this war seriously, we wouldn’t be playing whack-a-mole with the insurgency because we would have enough troops to pacify a strife-ridden country.

Instead of the “Pottery Barn Rule”, I want to present the “Bull in the China Shop Rule”: If there’s a bull in the china shop breaking stuff, you don’t stomp your foot indignantly and demand that the bull glue the broken stuff back together. You get the bull out of the china shop before it breaks more stuff. The bull doesn’t know how to fix things, and you don’t want it to try. It would only make things worse. Maybe we should be talking about the “shit or get off the pot rule”: If you’ve occupied a foreign country, do what you’re going to do, or get out. Don’t just hang around getting shot at and pissing people off.

Not that there aren’t potentially disastrous consequences for withdrawal. I’m not arguing that at all. It could be hell on earth. It’s just that I’m not convinced that staying will avert those consequences. And as I’ve said before, at least if we aren’t there it won’t be us getting killed, and won’t be us killing others.

What would it take for me to support this war? Bush would have cut the bullshit. Bush would have to come out and say something like this: “Iraq is going horribly, and we’re going to do a major strategic shift. We’re going to increase our troop strength by 250,000. We’re going to launch a building and infrastructure plan that’ll make the Marshall Plan look like Tinker Toys. To pay for this, we’re going to repeal all of the tax giveaways we irresponsibly handed out. I’m firing Rumsfeld now and putting Shinseki in charge of the occupation. And I am personally moving to Baghdad and living outside the Green Zone so I can see first hand what the hell is going on there. And by the way, I’m also going to enact some stiff fuel economy laws and launching a “Manhattan Project” style push to come up with alternate sources of energy.” The sad thing is, even if we did all this, it would still be a tough slog. But at least I’d know he’s frickin’ SERIOUS about this war. Then I might support it. But if this administration isn’t even supporting this war, why should I?


Blogger App Crit said...

The memo referred (assuming it was meant only for internal circulation) is an interesting piece of evidence attesting to a broader continuum of shifting value parameters.

The worst effect of the Iraq campaign is the incipient elasticity of values previously sacred to this republic. The US is neither fighting nor governing according to the rule of law, nor now setting the example with its own diplomatic corps, which was one of key 'mission[s] of presence' during the Cold War.

History has shown that large, imperial powers adapt to values of practice, replacing values of principle. Inevitably this marks the period of greater difficulty for them. Exx.: Britain during the Colonial Wars, France in the 1950s, Spain in the 1820s, Belgium in the Congo, the Portuguese in...everywhere, and even the Dutch in Indonesia and the Germans in East Africa. Furter back in history there are several other parallels, of course.

I'm no alarmist predicting the doom of the US, but rather the consequence of arrogance held by policy-makers (of both sides) who chose to ignore the history or experience of other nations. By pursuing this campaign in willful ignorace of that, the more likely the US is to falter on it. (France has a long history with nationalistic/fundamentalist terrorism from the Islamic world. It's no wonder they didn't want to do this Bush's way.)

So, yes, the bull has destroyed the china shop. But the more the US tries to fix it alone, the more the US will lose sight of what its ideal china shop indeed was.


8:35 PM, June 19, 2006  
Anonymous Justin said...

But if this administration isn’t even supporting this war, why should I?

Well said.

they talk about staying the course ad nauseum,

That's nauseam. Easy to remember, because the English word is "nausea" not *nauseus, *nauseum, *nauseo or anything else that would have come from the second declension.

And App_Crit said:
... chose to ignore the history or experience of other nations.

Ah, but America is exceptional, right?

10:36 PM, June 19, 2006  
Blogger Zachary Drake said...

Corrected "ad nauseam". Nothing like having the Mad Latinist around to keep ones Latin in good form.

10:44 PM, June 19, 2006  

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