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2.04.2006

A question of values 

Let me see if I understand the situation: these protestors in Muslim countries want to kill people who publish cartoons depicting Muslims as killers.

In these official statements, the EU and Danish governments have held fast to the freedom of the press to publish offensive statements. Meanwhile, the US's reaction clearly is an attempt to pander to the people in Iraq and other countries, because their support is required for the US's grand ambition of democratizing the Middle East to succeed.

Back when the war in Iraq was launched, I thought the liberals were wrong when they claimed that people in the Middle East wouldn't be able to live in a liberal democracy. I hope that thought is still wrong, but incidents like these protests aren't very reassuring.

Comments:

1. Most elites in the US are not interested in actually bringing democracy to the middle east. As I see it, the US tried to dominate Iraq first by totally military means. As the military only approach has failed, they have attempted to push the conflict into the political arena. Thus pandering for public support in the middle east seems entirely consistant with the current stragy.

2. I'm glad that the EU stood up for freedom of the press. Sometimes I wonder about the commitment to the bill of rights here in the US. I'm sure there would have been an outcry if the cartoons has depecited christanity in the same way. The outcry would have probably been letters and phone calls to the paper and scathing editorials. Generally, we're too lazy to have a demonstration.
 


From today's washington post article on the Embassies in Syria:

The Vatican deplored the violence but said certain provocative forms of criticism were unacceptable.

"The right to freedom of thought and expression ... cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers," the Vatican said in its first statement on the controversy.


I suspect that much of the US thinks similarly to this politically correct line by the Vatican. For example, one activist group in Columbus, Ohio used to put up stickers with the logo "No Free Speach for Facisits"! No shortage of irony there...
 


I disagree -- I think that the US, and George Bush in particular, is (or was) very serious about trying to democratize the Middle East. Back when he was campaigning in 2000, Bush had declared that he was "not interested in nation-building". No doubt he was contemptuous of NATO's campaign in the former Yugoslavia, as many Republicans were at the time.

Then of course 9/11/01 rolled around, and Bush did a complete 180 from the paleocon view of foreign policy to the neocon view. In his 2003 SOTU address, two months before the invasion of Iraq began, he had spoken specifically about trying to bring freedom to the Iraqi people. Certainly such a move was politically more expedient than it would have been at any other time, but as far as I can tell, Bush is serious. The problems have been that the US has underestimated the strength of tribalism, religious sectarianism and general Western xenophobia as obstructions to the implementation of a functional democracy in Iraq. Plus they let in a whole bunch of foreign terrorists through the borders.

If the administration's only goal were to create a more friendly market for trading oil, the US probably would have just kept Saddam in place and dropped the UN's economic sanctions of the 1990s against Iraq (which were supported only by the US and UN by the end of the decade, I think). The effects of those sanctions on the general health of the Iraqi populace have been overstated, but they were still politically very costly to the Clinton administration in the eyes of other nations. Or the administration could have found some way to circumvent the sanctions (like various public officials in the France, Russia and the UN were accused of doing) while still maintaining the appearance of keeping Saddam contained. Certainly there were alternatives to launching a war if oil had been the primary objective.

But back to freedom of the press -- back when "Piss Christ" and the Virgin Mary smeared in elephant dung debuted, the Boston Globe ran an editorial defending public funding of such exhibits (if not the actual pieces themselves). Meanwhile, it is denouncing the cartoon of Mohammed wearing a bomb turban. I think people generally don't recognize that the way to defeat bad art is not to protest against it, but simply to ignore it.
 


Who posted these anonymous comments? I want to find him and kill him.
 


btw, i wasn't really upset by the anonymous poster, nor do i wish to kill him. my comment was supposed to echo the first paragraph of eddie's blog post. hmm, in retrospect it doesn't read as funny as i thought it would. dang.
 


1. Bush's rhetoric usually has very little to do with what they are actually planning. Even books like "the Price of Loyality" about Paul O'Neal make this clear when he harshly criticizes Bush for having Rove and other people who's jobs are the selling of policy to have any influnce on said policy. More generally, in high US politics, we see the salesmanship, but not the policy being made.

For example, if you listen to Bush, it sounds like he is a big environmentialist. But if you study his actual policies, you get a totally different picture. It is the actual policy that matters.

2. Generally, all US leaders have sold their wars through every means possible. Usually, they try to sell the US intervention as something very positive. The sales pitch really isn't new.

3. So we are left with just a few things from which to try to infer intent:
A. Insiders memiors. Personally, I like James Bambford's book "A Pretext for War"
B. Actions taken during the early occupation. Here, the US:
I. closed any critical media
II. directly ruled by the military
III. hand picked the 'governing concil'
IV. more or less wrote the constitution itself.
V. decided which parties could and could not run in the initial elections
VI. used the security situation as a pretext to disenfranchise voters who would be hostile to US interests
etc...

4. As far as being in it for oil, remember that the choice that was made wasn't between the insurgency and Saddam, rather it was between Cheney and Rumhsfleds' grand vision and Saddam. In the grand vision, the big motivator was oil. It's just that reality has intruded onto that pipe dream.
 


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