Sunday, June 19, 2005

What the Iraqi insurgency is all about

Whatever we may think of the Iraq war, and of the American occupation, and however much we may criticize, rightly, the atrocious treatment of some detainees at American detention facilities like Gitmo, it's important to keep in mind just what the other side is doing. We know how brutally Saddam treated Iraqis, but we're finally getting a glimpse of just what the insurgents are like -- see here (it's a tough read, but an important one).

Let us debate the conduct of the war/occupation, but let us also keep in mind that we're all on the same side -- or, at least, we should be. I know it's hard to see that, especially for those of us on the left or in the center who disagree with the Bush Administration and who find much of the zealously pro-war right so repellent, but some perspective is required if we are to deal with Iraq without resorting to blind partisanship.

There will always be those on the extremes who refuse to see things as they are and who approach every issue with a mind to scoring political points, but let us at least try to do the right thing irrespective of the usual left-right divisions that plague American politics. And, for now, in that regard, let no one think that America and Americans are in any way on the same level of inhumanity as those who wage war on their own people and who don't give a damn about human life, whether Saddam or, now, the fascist jihadists who lead the Iraqi insurgency.

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  • There is no doubt that you are correct in your assessment. I have said all along that opposing Bush's policy in Iraq doesn't require that you romanticize the insurgency, which has apparently no interest in anything but destabilizing Iraq. I have seen people on blogs say that the insurgents are really patriotic nationalists, blah, blah, but it seems clear that they are motivated primarily either by Islamist fanaticism or their own power interests.

    However, I do think you have to be careful in conflating the insurgents' tactics with the reasons for why the insurgency exists. It's clear to me that a lot of Iraqis support the general goals of the insurgency--ie, getting the US the hell out of Iraq--even if they are appalled by the tactics. It's the same thing as in Viet Nam--as brutal as the VC and North Vietnamese were, they did reflect, to some extent, an element of popular opinion. So, I think you have to be very careful about making a simple equation that the insurgency is anti-Iraqi. In the same way that a lot of Muslims oppose terrorism but a sympathetic to the Al Quaida, I suspect that a lot of Iraqis (certainly the Sunnis) have a general sympathy for the goals of the insurgents. Of course,this may be dissipating as the insurgents' tactics are becoming more and more extreme.

    The point is that, as horrible as the insurgents are, we can't deceive ourselves into thinking that the wearinness of Iraqis over the tactics translates into some sort of mandate in support of American policy. We have to be careful not to convince ourselves that the insurgency, by itself, justifies continuing our present course in Iraq. However, I suspect that is what the Bush Administration is doing. No, I am not advocating "cutting and running." What I am doing is saying we have to look at our policy and see if it is succeeding in stabilizing Iraq, instead of the mantra that we "have to stay the course."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:51 AM  

  • Nate,

    I'm not saying people aren't glad Saddam is gone--I'm sure they are. But I suspect a lot of them are torn by the way it was done. The fact they are glad to be rid of Saddam doesn't preclude the possibility that the idea of fighting against the American occupiers has some popular support. Obviously, some groups are happy to have us there, especially the Kurds. For the others, though, I think our presence is much more problematic.

    My point was that we shouldn't assume that because the insurgency is evil (which it is) that it necessarily means that Iraqis support our presence or our policy. Or that the current policy is the best way to combat the insurgency.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:41 AM  

  • Oh, absolutely. It doesn't serve much purpose to label the insurgency as "evil". That does nothing to help us understand (and deal with) the situation in Iraq at the moment. Certainly something is terribly wrong with "the current policy". But I think it's important for the left not to fall into the moral equivalency view of things. Democrats in particular need to understand that there's a big difference between being anti-Bush and anti-war.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 1:49 AM  

  • Agreed Michael. There is no moral equivalency. I think the left (by which I really mean the "hard" left) was anxious to annoint the insurgency as an indigenous nationalist movement as it did with the Viet Cong. But the insurgency has nothing to be proud of--once Saddam was out, it would have made more sense to try to help build the new country, which would have gotten the Americans out a hell of a lot faster. But, of course, much of the insurgency had a different agenda.

    But my point was that just because, from our point of view the insurgency is irrationally violent doesn't mean that it isn't tapping some popular discontent with the American presence. Pretending that the Iraqis see us as liberators--which they clearly don't for the most part--is just helping to perpetuate the illusion that all we have to do is "stay the course."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:29 AM  

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