Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Back to the Beginning

Since the Iraq War is now back in the news cycle due to the publication of the Chilcot Report, this is a reminder of my own take on the matter as it unfolded.

As one can see, I wasn’t exactly on the bandwagon cheering it on, but, like so many other Arab observers, I saw it as a useless and cynical exercise in power. As I wrote back then

“It should be a waste of someone’s precious breath to try to explain how impossible it is for a foreign invader to impose democracy upon an un-cooperating or even defeated people. But people often need to be reminded of the obvious. So there it is plainly put: Democracy cannot be imposed by a foreign invader.”

Still, my anti-war views, as strong s they were, did not turn me into the usual anti-war activist railing against American imperialism, and working to ensure the failure of the American project in our world. Why? Because the price of failure would have to be borne by the Iraqi people and other peoples in the region, and because failure clearly meant chaos, mayhem and bloodshed on massive scales. That mush was clear.

This is how I described the best case scenario following the American invasion:

“the Americans will have nothing to work with, with regard to democracy-building, when they finish their conquest of Iraq. The best they could do is to install another puppet regime, just like they did in Afghanistan, a regime whose authority will not go far beyond the borders of Baghdad, and will, in fact, have no control over the northern and southern parts of the country, thus creating a de facto division of Iraq laying the foundations for more turbulence in the near future.

Now, some would say that creating such a situation corresponds more closely to the real intentions of the Americans in this war. Be that as it may, the net result is the further destabilization of one of the World’s most volatile region, a development that is unlikely to lead to democratization.”

And this how I tackled the issue of the costs involved in failure:

But now that the Americans have actually declared and are actively waging their “little war,” it is incumbent upon us to rethink some of our anti-war stands. For an American defeat, or a too costly victory, the kind that can make undertaking similar ventures in the future unthinkable, could have very negative repercussions on all democracy and human right activities in the region.

For, by insisting that democratization of the region is one of the main goals behind the current campaign, the Americans have succeeded in usurping the “cause of democratization” both in governmental discourse, which can easily now denounce democracy advocates as agents of America, and public consciousness, which has traditionally been much more sympathetic to fundamentalist Islam and has always looked down with suspicion on democracy advocates as agents of Westernization.

Whichever way one looks at it then, the legacy of the Bush Administration in the region seems bound to be very undemocratic. Neither victory nor their defeat will be conducive to democracy. This being the case, the humanists amongst us, as is usual in these situations, will have to settle for the lesser of the two evils, however they would define them.

With this in mind, I saw that the main task of the activists, especially those inspired by humanist principles, is to try to work against their own cynicism and work with the Americans to ensure a measure of “success.” This is essentially a pragmatic approach to political activism one which very few seem to understand or appreciate. At that time, I thought the phenomenon could only be detected in our region and other underdeveloped parts of the world, but over the last decade I learned that it is actually global in scope. One is either “with” or “against,” “in” or “out.” Those who cannot be thus classified are seen as stooges or opportunists, or some sort of hybrids.

Indeed, this is the prevailing assumption about me both within the Syrian communities in the U.S. and abroad, not to mention back home, and within the anti-war and leftist academic circles. Rightwing circles have naturally been far more accommodating, but there were always limits, since they could clearly see what the leftists refused to see: that when I was with them I was clearly not moving in my natural political habitat.

Despite this “handicap,” in time, my activities and writings helped me get the notice of the Bush Administration and, eventually, of the President himself. While this success may not have made much of a difference when it came to eventual developments in Syria and the wider region, this is hardly an indication of the failure of the approach itself or the pragmatic philosophy behind it. After all, this was a very small effort by a very small team taking place against amazing odds and led by a person who was not a natural politician. Having some of the right instincts is one thing, having the required set of skills quite another.

When the surge took place, I was on board with it, because, yes, people do have a moral obligation to own what they break. This is where President Bush showed himself to be a better man than President Obama, in my liberal humanist mind. He fucked up big time yes, but, then, he tried to own and fix his big fuckup. That means something.

In his own way, President Obama might be trying to do just that in connection to Syria. In this, however, he is hampered by his inability to believe that he did anything wrong. In his mind, his engagement in Syria is about trying to fix everybody else’s mistakes there Syria, including those committed by the Syrians themselves.

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