An amazing thought about Iraq

We all know that in 1991 President Bush the Elder, even without his solemn commitment to his Coalition partners that he would not conquer Iraq but only drive it out of Kuwait, never had the slightest thought or intention of conquering Iraq, because he knew the U.S. would immediately become responsible for governing that hellishly divided and troublesome country. We also knew in 2002 and 2003, or at least we thought we knew, that when President Bush the Younger decided to invade Iraq, it was in full knowledge and appreciation of the factors that had made his father eschew the conquest of Iraq. We assumed that W. and his advisors fully understood that taking over Iraq was a very dangerous thing to do, but that (1) they were convinced they had no choice in the matter, because only through occupying Iraq could we be sure that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, and (2), since an at least temporary occupation of Iraq was necessary, they were making a virtue of necessity, thinking long and hard about how to occupy and reconstruct Iraq while sidestepping the kinds of disasters that Bush the Elder had foreseen. The assumption was that the Bush team were fully aware that the difficulties of providing order and unity in a postwar Iraq were daunting, that success was not guaranteed, and that they were therefore taking the problem very seriously.

And here’s the amazing thought. While W.’s team had all kinds of contingency plans in place for chemical warfare, famine, massive refugee flows and the like, they didn’t take at all seriously the problem of order in a post-Saddam Iraq. The very result of an American toppling of the Hussein regime that Bush the Elder had seen as so horrible that the American toppling of that regime must be avoided at all costs, Bush the Younger didn’t even see as a problem! Bush the Younger and his team basically didn’t do anything to prepare for post-conquest Iraq. W. even blew off the careful plans presented by various agencies in the State Department which had lots of experience with the kinds of problems that befall a society immediately after the overthrow of its government. Instead of engaging in the most careful preparations to bring order to post-Saddam Iraq, Bush and his crew occupied a Muslim country the all-American way, on a shoeshine and a smile, trusting that everything would, somehow, just work out, because, well, we’re Americans, and God loves Americans.

And what gave Team W. this utterly irrational and utterly disastrous confidence?

Neoconservatism! The neoconservative credo that all peoples in the world pant for democracy and are capable of democracy, and that the Iraqi people would build a government that was both democratic AND orderly the moment their cruel dictator was out of power.

The neoconservative belief in a universal, American-style human sameness drove Bush to do the riskiest thing that any U.S. president had ever done, taking over an ethnically and religiously divided Muslim country, and to do it with no serious thought about what would come next, because the neocons had convinced him that the automatic gravitation of all humans toward democracy made any forethought unnecessary.

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VFR’s Indian reader living in the West writes.

I think this is unduly harsh on the Neocons for the following reason—their belief in universal “human rights” ideology and human sameness is not peculiar to them; they represent broadly the prevailing beliefs about the world for this generation of Americans.

So to single them out is unfair because they only reflect the prejudices of wider American society—and let’s face it, it’s not just the Neocons specifically that believe those things when the left-liberals are perhaps even worse (and the Democrats now control Congress). How many Americans have you met who truly believe that there exist savage like peoples in this world and this therefore means that there are peoples in this world who are incapable of democracy because a combination of their religious belief and savagery makes them ungovernable? I would guess that barring a small and electorally insignificant minority, most people would have none of that.

To Americans (and to most Westerners) being tolerant and not being bigoted is a virtue. To see other peoples in a negative (and somewhat harsh light) would be seen as bigotry. And no American or Westerner wants to be accused of being a bigot. Lastly, Americans of all political stripes have a deep craving to be loved. All peoples aren’t like that. Do the Japanese or the Russians or the Iranians think that the whole world ought to love them? No. But Americans do. Neoconservatism is not unique in this respect.

LA replies:

Of course the neocons’ post-2001 beliefs about democracy have a history and a basis in a broad and historic American outlook. But the neocons’ post-2001 beliefs about democracy go much farther than anything said before.

I remind you of their mantra that all people are ready and capable of democracy because they “love their children and don’t want to be brutalized by thugs.” The idea that these most basic human instincts—the desire not to be brutalized and the love of one’s children—form the sufficient basis to form a democracy-maintaining populace, represents a radical departure from previous American beliefs. The reduction of the common human nature to the fear of violent death is not Locke, it is Hobbes. And Hobbes’s view of man famously did not lead to democracy, but to the transfer of all power to a dictatorial sovereign, the Leviathan, who would keep all men safe in exchange for all men giving up their freedom.

It is not Hobbes who is formative in the American tradition, but Locke, who had a more benign view of human nature than Hobbes, who said that all men have certain natural rights, that in the state of nature one cannot be secure in the enjoyment of those rights, and therefore men voluntarily band together in a social contract which consists of the mutual recognition of each other’s rights, and in which they delegrate their natural right to use force to defend their natural rights to a government formed by the social contract, while still retaining ultimate ownership of their natural rights.

But the Hobbesian (and now the neocon) view of the common human nature and of the social contract which is based on it does not include the idea of this mutual recognition. It is based solely on love of one’s own—one’s own children, and one’s own life. Self-government cannot grow from this root. And indeed, the Muslims have no idea of recognizing other people’s rights. The neocons thought that people who care only about their own and don’t give a damn about others, i.e., humanity at the lowest common denominator, can join in a democratic self-government. This is such a mindless and dangerous throwing aside of long-established American understandings, not to mention of minimal common sense, that the neocons should have been pilloried for it. But, apart from marginal critics like myself, who has pilloried them? Yes, establishment types like Buckley and Will and Charles Kesler of Claremont and a couple of others have expressed their skepticism of the neocon view, but only in the most gentile, understated, and detached manner, when what they should have been doing was denouncing it to the skies. Then we would have had a debate worthy of the name, and maybe we would now be in a better position to articulate a policy to replace the failed neocon policy.

Indian reader replies:

I think one shouldn’t flatter the neocons by comparing them to Hobbes who was a philosopher and superior to them in every respect. :) It is true that Americans are Lockean in their politics—traditionally. But I think we also agree that the country has changed a great deal. And this change is reflected in the politics and the political choices of the people. Now if Americans really did differ quite significantly in the fundamentals from this worldview which the neocons espouse, you would see any number of people having a go at them publicly for saying such things. The fact is, however, that they don’t. If this were the 1920s in Coolidge’s America, such ideas would have been laughed off the table. But they don’t get laughed off anymore. If the neocons are opposed, they are opposed on vain liberal principles—of war avoidance and not causing suffering to non-western peoples plus the hatred of corporations and oil companies, all of which are liberal causes. So I wouldn’t hold my breath to see if any public figures start questioning the fundamental flaws in this worldview. I don’t think it is going to happen. I would also say that you, me and a lot of your readers are much further to the right of the average American voter, most of whom would consider us extremists of some sort or other. It is of course ridiculous because there is nothing extreme in what you observe. But that’s 21st century politics for you.

LA replies:

You’re saying something very disturbing, that the neocons have not been adequately opposed because most people basically share their lunatic view of a common human nature and democracy’s sufficient basis in it. That may be true. Just as liberalism has been radicalized, so has neoconservatism.

And obviously, to point to a similarity between the neocons and Hobbes on one point is not to say that they are on the same level intellectually. :-)

Ben writes:

Amen. Most conservatives are still delusional about this “war,” blaming the Democrats, etc. Not taking war serious, not taking history serious, nor religious beliefs serious was the reason Bush is now a total lame duck war president.

I read something today about Bush sending secular Christmas cards. Tony Snow when asked about it stated, Bush had no desire to force his religious beliefs upon others. Reading this, I realized that this is another reason we are losing Iraq. The belief that nobody is really serious about their religion (except “extremists” of course) enough to wish it to be spread. In other words, people in the West since they just show up to church on Sunday with no real strong beliefs, think everybody else feels the same as they do, which is total non seriousness about their religion.

Americans must realize that the Islamic world is serious about Islam. This is not just something they just get dressed up for and show up for during a weekend. They believe every word in that Koran. Period. Just because the Christian world has lost its desire for evangelism doesn’t mean Islam has lost its desire for Jihad.

Arlene M. writes:

I think I have to disagree, respectfully, with your Indian reader living in the West.

I don’t know where he lives, but I think in “heartland America” there are still plenty of people who hold the old-fashioned realistic view, which was taught until a few decades ago in America, that democracy is a rarity in the world. Many of us who had a more traditional education were taught that democracy requires certain preconditions, which do not exist except in a relatively few times and places. I really don’t remember hearing the neocon view widely expressed until the Iraq invasion in 2003, when the administration decided to embark on nation-building and spreading democracy. In fact at that time I was astounded that so many people took up the mantra of the administration uncritically, because it was not widely believed in the past. I suspect that mostly neocon elites and the Fox News junk-food conservatives have done the most toward spreading the neocon beliefs.

If you press most people, at least those of a traditional bent, they will acknowledge that not everybody can have a Jeffersonian-style democracy, and that people are not all the same and interchangeable. The desire not to appear “bigoted” is not such a pressing need for many common-sense Americans out there. Many people still value truth more than being politically correct. And although the mainstream media still slavishly put out the liberal/neocon party line, average people don’t really buy it. Out there in the corners of the blogosphere are many people who are “having a go” at the neocon ideology publicly, to use the Indian reader’s terminology. The truth is out there, and we are not all brainwashed yet. The American people, outside the Beltway and the urban centers, still retains common sense and old values.

Don’t sell us short, yet.

LA replies:

“I really don’t remember hearing the neocon view widely expressed until the Iraq invasion in 2003, when the administration decided to embark on nation-building and spreading democracy. In fact at that time I was astounded that so many people took up the mantra of the administration uncritically, because it was not widely believed in the past.”

That is my experience too. The “everyone is the same and is ready for democracy” was a new thing that I heard for the first time in 2002. That it was accepted so automatically in such a large swath of conservative opinion was absolutely astonishing.

LA continues:

I said above: “Just as liberalism has been radicalized, so has neoconservatism.” Here are a pair of examples of what mean by this.

Liberals used to believe in democracy and majority rule. But more recently, liberals have begun to attack the idea of majority rule, because it is still not “equal” enough, that is, because it results in one group, the majority, being superior in power to another group, the minority. (I had a blog entry on this amazing development a year or two ago with an example from Europe or America. I will try to find it.)

Neoconservatives used to believe in democracy, and they also believed, along with other Americans, that democracy requires certain moral, cultural, and social underpinnings. But more recently, in 2002, neoconservatives began to declare that all peoples regardless of their cultural and social underpinnings are ready for democracy, and they added that anyone who doubted the truth of this ridiculous and dangerous assertion was condescending and racist, thus seeking to cut off any debate on this ridiculous and dangerous assertion.

So, in the case of both the liberals and the neocons, a radical belief in absolute equality changed the older belief in democracy into, respectively, a belief in democracy without majority rule (meaning a “democracy” administered by an unrepresentative bureaucracy, as in the EU), and a belief in democracy that is equally accessible to all humans regardless of their social and moral condition (meaning a “democracy” imposed on mankind by a combination of American power and American open borders under the guidance of neoconservatives).

Indian reader replies:
If Arlene is correct, why do the representatives of the “Heartland Americans” not question the fundamentals of the neocon worldview (that all people want freedom and democracy)?

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 16, 2006 04:32 PM | Send

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