Friday, April 02, 2004

Read Your Hobbes, George

On the front page of my paper today, the most disturbing news yet out of Iraq. The headline read, "General vows to hunt killers, retake Fallujah." Retake? The word implies that, for the time being, the territory in question has been lost. In the bloody murder and mutilation of civilian security personnel on Wednesday, no US forces were to be seen. The commanding officer in the region said he wasn't willing to risk his people to recover the bodies of people who were already dead by entering the city. Clearly, the situation in Iraq is far worse than our government would have us believe. Casualties tapered off in January and February, but it appears this is primarily the result of the withdrawal of US forces from populated areas to well-defended bases, rather than a sign that Bremer has established effective control of the country. To avoid politically damaging casualties, it appears US forces have abandoned large areas of the country to lawlessness.

This is a very bad sign. For one thing, it reveals that two and a half years after 9/11, the Bush Administration still doesn't get it. Administration officials have commented that the worst case scenarios for Iraq are the emergence of another Saddam style dictatorship, or the birth of an Iran-style Shia theocracy. Apparently these guys have very limited imaginations. To me, the worst case scenario is a failed state, like Somalia, Afghanistan, or Sudan. This scenario could end in a genocidal civil war, lawless territories in which terror groups are free to operate in the open, or both.

The reason the Bushies can't see this danger is basically ideological. As doctrinaire American Conservatives, they believe that the government is a burden, an inherently oppressive force that should be as small as possible. They truly belive that the best economic policy is low taxes and small government, that the world functions best if money is left in the hands of the (rich) people. Thus, with the invasion of Iraq, they thought that once the cancerous government was removed, a free society would emerge spontaneously and form a democracy. This is naive drivel. What you get when you remove the government from society is a thing called "the war of all against all." People just aren't that nice, George. And by allowing large areas of a previously highly-ordered country to go virtually ungoverned, we have created the very thing we got rid of in Afghanistan: a haven for terrorists.

This is why the "Conservative Revolution" will fail - some of their core beliefs are demonstrably false. Big Government is a necessity for an advanced society, meaning everyone on earth today. The economy and social life needs to be regulated and managed. They know this on some level, it's just that the impulse is diverted into trying to regulate people's sexual and reproductive behavior. If everyone will just adopt the same beliefs, the argument goes, we won't need government. But that's just not possible anymore. The solution is not religious and "moral" conformity - it's a free society, with limits. Your freedom to throw a punch ends at my face. You can burn your own flag, but you better not touch mine.

I suppose I'd describe my position as Law and Order Liberal. I do not believe society is served best if everyone pursues their own self-interest. I believe that kind of thinking leads to exploitation, gang warfare, and eventually cannibalism. I believe society is best served by patriotism, service, duty, self-sacrifice, and concern for the well-being of one's fellow citizens. I believe the whole is more important than its parts. As a nation, we are unstoppable. But if we choose not to be a nation, but instead to be a bunch of "radical individualists," then the terrorists needn't bother attacking us. We'll be eating each other soon enough.
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