They [the Iraqis] would do so [revolt against the occupier] for their own self-respect. In taking out Saddam, we robbed the Iraqis of the honor of liberating themselves. The fact that they had no means to do so is beside the point.The only sort of honor and self-respect that American liberals (and most American leftists) seem to care about is the feelings of honor and self-respect concerning masculinity that may motivate some Arab men, as they fret about the pictures of American women humiliating Iraqi men and worry over the prevalence of "honor killings" in the Middle East (whose similarity to and difference from what is called "domestic violence" or more euphemistically "crimes of passion" in the rest of the world are seldom explored -- another instance of orientalism). Try to find the idea that the US power elite "robbed the Iraqis of the honor of liberating themselves" and that the very fact of foreign occupation itself -- even without rape, torture, deliberate and accidental killings of unarmed civilians, raids, checkpoints, indefinite detentions, economic hardships -- is an affront to any self-respecting Iraqi in the voluminous scribblings of American liberals and leftists who are busy coming up with harebrained schemes of enlisting the United Nations, the Arab League, and whatnot to "maintain stability" in Iraq (e.g., Phyllis Bennis, "The withdrawal of the U.S. military should be paralleled by the entry to Iraq of an independent UN mission, backed by the Arab League, to provide political assistance in arranging elections, humanitarian assistance, and a peacekeeping contingent to maintain stability while Iraq is reclaiming its sovereignty. While the election process is underway, UN and Arab League troops should immediately work to restore the capacity of the Iraqi security forces to provide security under the authority of the new legitimate government as it comes into existence" ["Democracy and Occupation," ZNet, November 18, 2003]). You'll be looking for it for a long time in vain.
Now, looking ahead, we face another irony. To earn their own freedom, the Iraqis need a victory. And since it is too late for the Iraqis to have a victory over Saddam, it is imperative that they have a victory over us. If the future textbooks of a free Iraq get written, the toppling of Saddam will be vaguely mentioned in one clause in one sentence. But the heroic Iraqi resistance against the American occupation will be lavishly described, page after page. For us to succeed in Iraq, we have to lose. (emphasis added, May 11, 2004)
Saturday, May 22, 2004
Honor and Self-Respect
After Falluja, Najaf, and Abu Ghraib, one conservative pundit after another has begun to publish chastened reassessments of the invasion and occupation of Iraq (for a survey of hawks' second thoughts, see John Tierney, "The Hawks Loudly Express Their Second Thoughts," New York Times, May 16, 2004). One of them is David Brooks. On one hand, Brooks is a good example that even the hawks having second thoughts about Iraq still cling to one of the core tenets of American imperialism -- America has a noble purpose of helping others: "We were so sure we were using our might for noble purposes, we assumed that sooner or later, everybody else would see that as well. Far from being blinded by greed, we were blinded by idealism. . . . We didn't understand the tragic irony that our power is also our weakness. As long as we seemed so mighty, others, even those we were aiming to assist, were bound to revolt" ("For Iraqis to Win, the U.S. Must Lose," New York Times, May 11, 2004). Though Brooks now understands the idea that "We were going to topple Saddam, establish democracy and hand the country back to grateful Iraqis. We expected to be universally admired when it was all over" was "a childish fantasy," he will never give up the more enduring childish fantasy that Americans across classes and races constitute the national "we" who have shared national interests at home and missions abroad, all motivated by "idealism." That is to be expected. What is interesting, however, is that Brooks' column points to crucial concepts that liberals (and even most leftists) in the United States appear incapable of understanding -- honor and self-respect: