Thursday, April 20, 2006

Iraq II: Saddam as Martyr?

Like Mohammed, Iraqi bloggers are by and large easy going sorts. Most do not wear their religions on their sleeves. Most do not belong to political parties. Most don't affiliate themselves with militias and wouldn't know what to do with a Kalashnikov. They all loathed Saddam Hussein and welcomed their American liberators.

And all are witness to the slow but steady devolution of a country they love into a state that is, in some respects, in worse shape than it was before the war.

It wasn't supposed to be that way.

I reluctantly bought into the Bush administration mantra that Saddam Hussein needed to be taken out, but I anticipated that a longterm military occupation would be disastrous.

I did not know how right I would be.

* * * * *

Although there are only superficial similarities, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is in the habit of comparing the war in Iraq with World War II. I don't know about you, but as a student of history, this analogy evocation is so obscenely inappropriate that it makes me crazy.

Note that Rumsfeld never compares the post-war occupation of Iraq with, say, the post-war occupation of Japan, so allow me the honor.

The Bush administration spent 59 minutes on planning the Iraq war and one minute on the occupation. It made no effort to understand the complexity of Iraqi society. It disbanded the military and empowered the sectarian militias who are substantially responsible for the orgy of violence in Baghdad and elsewhere, including the assassination of innocents like Mohammed's brother in law. It promised infrastructure improvements ranging from reliable electrical service to public health clinics but hasn't delivered.

In short, the U.S. squandered a small but precious reservoir of goodwill by treating the Iraqi people like children who should be grateful for handouts from Uncle Sam.

The Roosevelt administration meticulously prepared for the occupation of Japan. It assigned teams of scholars and other experts to the task of understanding Japanese society. It finessed the extremely sensitive issue of whether the emperor should be tried as a war criminal. It promised and delivered on an extraordinary range of infrastructure improvements.

In short, the U.S. built on a small but precious reservoir of goodwill by treating the Japanese not as children, let alone a vanquished people, but as victims of a militaristic society that would become a thing of the past as they worked together to rebuild Japan.

* * * * *

Extraordinary as it seems, three-plus years into the occupation some Iraqis are actually saying that the bad old days under Saddam no longer seem so bad after all. It's not hard to see why.

Will the Bush administration's overweaning ignorance and arrogance result in something that Saddam himself never could accomplish on his own? Will the brutal former dictator became a martyr?

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