Every Thursday night I have my General’s Ghosts poker night, and last Thursday I had the pleasure of sharing some fine Kentucky Bourbon and Cigars with the ghosts of Generals Sherman, Pershing and Patton, and herewith is my best transcript of some of the ideas these good old boys were kicking around. Not saying I agree with them now, but last night they looked pretty good:
Solutions to the US-created quagmire in Iraq are being entertained with an unprecedented sense of urgency, and yet they range in a narrow band from slightly decreasing troops to slightly increasing them. No proposed solution discusses the root causes of the problem, namely a culture that has had its institutions literally ripped from it, plagued by an inherently unjust and decrepit infrastructure, with a wholesale lack of tools and resources to address day-to-day, and historical, grievances. Sectarian infighting has begun in earnest, and no government, as imagined by the US or anyone else, stands half a chance of stemming the violence.
We are suffering from a classic and yet at the same time perhaps unprecedented failure, mainly a failure of imagination. And so we are trying to solve a problem with the symbols that created it, and find ourselves in a sort of paradox in reverse. Either the US pulls out and the fighting gets worse, since leaving would then result in even poorer security, or it adds more troops and the fighting gets worse, since at the core of the current state of terrorism in Iraq is the highly convenient resentment of the US presence there.
Perhaps we need to think outside the falafal, and start with a vision of what the solution could look like, with the only requirement that a heavy and wet blanket be thrown over the red hot violence. What would it take to tamp down the rampant shootings and bombings?
The premise we are operating under is that no matter what the US does, Iraq will continue to disintegrate. And what if that’s true? What if, due to all the forces of history and geography and fate, based on all that has led us to this moment, Iraq is intractably heading towards an unchecked rampage that will end with a Rwanda-level genocide? Assuming that’s true, and I think most analysts now believe it certainly could be, what in the world could the US do?
There is an unexamined assumption that we are not willing to wake up to and acknowledge and put back on the table. It’s that the government in Iraq needs to be a democracy. But what if that’s the thing we have to give up?
What if the US was premature in its assumptions about regime change, and a democracy for Iraq can’t work? Or, more aptly stated, can’t work under the present conditions? Or, at least given the way the US went about foisting it, it can’t work any more? What if there is no way now – no matter how many troops the US sends and how much money it pours into the black hole – for there to be democratic institutions in place that are compatable with peace?
The answer is actually simple then. The US needs to install a dictatorship in Iraq. Not just a secret dictatorship, a de facto dictatorship, but an honest-to-God dictatorship, one in name as well. A real, old-fashioned Franco or Pinochet-style dictatorship. Why not? The US could say it was wrong, that it screwed it up, and that in the name of all that is decent, it is going to do the one thing it still can do to save the lives of average Iraqi citizens.
Sorry for the confusion folks, but the United States is now going to impose a fascist dictator on the people of Iraq, train him and his army, aid and arm him, and get out. He will brutally surpress all opposition, assassinate his enemies, and create order. How bad could that be? I mean, consider the horror of how things are now. He would need to be a native Iraqi, and as friendly a person to the US as the US could get who would still be cruel enough and smart enough to rule with an iron fist. I happen to not think there’s any shortage of these people in Iraq.
The US forces there could even allow the Iraqi people to vote for him.
Occupation troops could bill it as “One last election — Vote for your new dictator!” No more phony legislature, no more infighting and lack of clarity about who is working for whom, or whether this province is in cahoots with the Americans, that one still tied to a warlord. The US needs to give the Iraqi people what they want, or if not what they want, at least what they are used to. If the US does this, I believe we can have peace, and can provide Iraqis with some stability.
Yes, a fascist dictator would have to do some bad things. He would have to execute people, sometimes without trial, with no due process. He would have to supress public assembly, freedom of the press, and any right to dissent.
All those cherished “freedoms” would be sacrificed for law and order. But the number of innocent people who would die would be 1/10,000th of how many innocent people are dying today. And isn’t that the metric to be employeed?
To the objection that freedom in some abstract sense would be sacrificed, I
say: so what?! The fact that Iraqis can now write tepid editorials, purchase alcohol, watch M*A*S*H, use profanity, see a prostitute, or whatever pathetic and miniscule elements masquerading as freedom they, or we, affix to the bone crunching miasma of pain that is day-to-day life in 2006 Iraq, is so much less freedom than at least the freedom to walk down the street at night, there really is no comparison.
Democracy is not the highest good. And freedom is just an abstraction.
is being free, which is an actual thing, and that surely is the highest good, but that is not what the people in Iraq are. With certain preconditions, it is possible, but by no means guaranteed, that democracy leads to the most freedom. But without those preconditions, as we are seeing, democracy actually leads to the least freedom. And so in the name of being free we must now change course and impose a brutal, military dictatorship in Iraq. Look at the bright side. At least that’s something the US has some experience doing.