Further thoughts on David Brooks’ appearance last evening…
It is amusing that David Brooks and his Jacobin pals have become big fans of the need to adapt Western ideas of Democracy to the conditions of local culture and tradition that prevail in Iraq. (and maybe the Greater Middle East [GME]?) It was not always so. Until it became evident recently that Iraq was in the process of devolution into geographically bounded ethno-religious communities, the Jacobin neocons had little interest in local culture. What they had was a great deal of interest in general principles of political philosophy which they identified with "progress." Regional experts were notably absent from their councils except for "house experts" like Harold Rhode and the ex-ambassador to Morocco who explains the GME on Fox.
Douglas the Feith famously was quoted in the New Yorker magazine a few months ago as saying something to the effect that "it is a shame that experts on the region know so much and understand so little."
I represent that remark.
"Orientalism" was the name of a now out of fashion tendency in Middle East focused scholarship. It dominated the field for a couple of hundred years. In that way of thinking, the general obsession was to study, catalog and more or less "worship" the uniqueness, richness and generally photogenic qualities of alien cultures, the more alien the better. Orientalist writers, artists, curators, professors, etc. regretted deeply any trend toward modernity or attempt to change these cultures. The practical needs of the peoples of the region and the suffering and unrealized potential of individuals held down by local tradition never seemed to bother them much.
The whole premise of the Bush "crusade" in the GME was to break up the cultural matrix of the Islamic World and re-make it into something different that would not feel itself to be apart from the "Globalized World Culture" (read Western Culture). The belief was that if this could be done, then Muslims would stop being vulnerable to recruitment by Jihadi movements. That was what the code word "democratization" was all about. The Muslims understand this to be true and that is why one hears all this raving from some of them about "Infidel Constitutions," "Crusader invasions," etc.
There is and has been a lot of talk about our respect for other peoples’ cultures even while we clearly intended to cut the guts out of those cultures and replace them with plastic tubing. What did the Jacobins and Bush people intend to leave of the indigenous cultures? Folk dances and Shish Kebab?
But now we have a change!!
In the aftermath of the collapse of the WMD, Saddam-AQ alliance, and personification of the struggle (Zarqawi, etc.) explanations of the war, the Jacobins have been pushing hard for "Democratization" which we are now assured (by them) was always what they were after.
Unfortunately, the Iraqis are not "playing ball" with our idea of how this was supposed to develop. Instead of "signing up" to the American fantasy that they are "all Iraqis together," and happily staging a re-enactment of Philadelphia in 1788, they are acting on the imperatives of their societies which are such as to make them a "clutch" of ethno-religious "nations." All of those "nations" share one thing. They are resolved not to do things our way.
Brooks and company have now gotten the word on this and so are "backpeddling" into a position in which they essentially say that we should be happy with having done all this with the outcome of having substituted one or more Islamic Oriental Despotisms for a single Secular Oriental Despotism.
After all, they say, it’s their culture and their ways. If that was true and Saddam was not a menace to us…..