Jewish World Review June 20, 2003 / 20 Sivan, 5763
Let Iraq build its own playgrounds
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | In the next shipment of supplies to Iraq, the U.S. should include 23 million violins. Something the Iraqis could use to accompany their constant kvetching.
"Since the Americans arrived, we have no electricity," they complain to anyone who will listen. "Our schools are closed. Men are out of work. The water tastes icky. It's not safe to go outside after dark."
This litany is usually accompanied by a threat. "We are eternally grateful to you Americans for liberating us from Saddam Hussein, but if you don't fix things immediately we will be forced to stage a bloody intifadeh and kill you all."
This approach seems to be making an impression on the American administration in Baghdad. You can't open a newspaper or watch a newscast without seeing G.I.s clearing vacant lots, constructing playgrounds, fixing power grids and generally acting like an army of interior decoration.
This is a role the U.S. shouldn't assume. Iraq was a dysfunctional mudhole before the Americans got there. The electricity didn't work very well then, either. Schools were primitive indoctrination centers. More than half the urban work force was employed by the government in jobs that involved the bureaucratic or physical repression of fellow citizens. If the pumps didn't work, it was because the vandals took the handles.
The American impulse to fix things up flows from a combination of Yankee can-do-it-ness, altruism, business opportunities and - most of all - a misguided understanding of self-interest.
The U.S. wants to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis. But even if good deeds could accomplish that (a dubious possibility at best), the question remains: What's the point?
Sure, the U.S. would like Iraq to become a secular, pro-Western democracy with free institutions and a market economy. But this is a pipe dream. Iraq doesn't have much, but it does have a culture - to which American values are foreign and threatening. An open society? Washington might just as well demand that the people of Baghdad start speaking Swedish and adopt tap dancing as their national pastime.
Luckily, capturing Iraqi minds and hearts is not essential to the American mission. The U.S. is not a colonial power. It doesn't covet the deserts, swamps and slums of Iraq. It has two reasons to be there: to protect the flow of oil (not only from Iraq, but from its neighbors) and to safeguard American security by ensuring that whatever government rules in Baghdad is too weak and intimidated to threaten the U.S. directly or by terrorist proxy.
Such goals will not be accomplished by providing Iraqis with great playgrounds or colder soft drinks or even fair elections. These are things the Iraqis can acquire for themselves, if they want them.
What the U.S. should do is make sure Saddam is dead, install a relatively decent regime, furnish it with a set of ground rules and then withdraw troops from the cities and towns.
American forces garrisoned in strategic, outlying areas of Iraq would be out sight, but not out of mind. The regime in Baghdad would be allowed to rule according to local custom - as long as it didn't attempt to inhibit the flow of oil or reconnect with the axis of evil. Bad behavior would bring the Marines crashing back.
Would the Iraqis like this arrangement? Of course not. They would
complain that it would violate their sovereignty and independence and
sacred national honor. And so it would. Unfortunately, in the age of
modern jihad, there isn't much America can do about it. Except pass
out the violins.
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