ìAgreement by U.S. and Rebels to End Fighting in Najaf: After 7-Week Battle, Sadrís Force Quits Streets but Stays Intact,î by Dexter Filkins, New York Times, 28 May, p. A1.
ìKerry Outlines Foreign Policy, Attacking Bush,î by Robin Toner and David E. Sanger, NYT, 28 May, p. A1.
ìIn Jordanís Scrapyards, Signs of a Looted Iraq: While U.S. Rebuilds, Experts Cite Plunder of Costly Material,î by James Glanz, NYT, 28 May, p. A1.
ìU.S. and Bahrain Reach A Free Trade Agreement: Despite small figures, Washington see symbolic importance,î by Elizabeth Becker, NYT, 28 May, p. W1.
I understand the deal with the devil in Najaf, and I know that temporizing situations can work in our strategic favor. But such deals only work if we spend the meantime creating the connectivity that generates strategic despair on their side, not ours.
Strategic despair is when your side surveys the environment and says to itself: ìNo matter how hard we try, this thing is going southóthereís just too many of them and too few of us.î I worry about strategic despair a lot right now with the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, and even more so back here at home, where media coverage highlights only failure and never success. Why? The mediaís definition of war is almost as narrow as the Pentagonís: show us the smoking holes and dead bodies! The ìeverything elseî is completely ignored, which is why onsite blogs like IRAQ THE MODEL are so importantóthey define serious ground truth.
What are the deals worth concluding right now? Our enemies in Iraq, which I dub the forces of disconnectedness because that is what they seek for both Iraq and the region as a whole, believe in the inherent weakness of Westerners, something experts have taken to calling Occidentalism (a book out on that subject now is quite good). Occidentalism basically says that too much individuality is very bad, weakening both the individual and the societyómaking us weak and decadent. It tends to ignore the reality that the most vibrant and creative societies in this world all stress individualism.
I know, I know, youíll tell me about Japan. But Japanís collectivist society was only good at taking other peopleís ideas and manufacturing them intelligentlyóuntil a generation of individualists began arising in the last couple of decades. These are the Japanese whoíve given us the tremendous art and culture and fashion and design. These individualists are the ones defining Japanís future as the global capital of cool.
America has been battling the Occidentalist outlook for a very long time. Imperial Japan thought a bloody nose, delivered at Pearl Harbor, would simply scare us off. The Viet Cong fought onóagainst tremendous odds and horrendous lossesóbecause they believed America was easily scared off. In neither case was this true: we crushed the Japanese in a very bloody war, and only pulled out of Vietnam when we realized that our larger strategic rationale was empty.
But shedding blood or spilling that of others has never been a problem for America, land of glorified violence and mass media full of revenge fantasies (think of our most cherished stars and what has defined themólike Clint Eastwood or Mel Gibson). Americans are not squeamish whatsoever. In fact, we wallow in images of death and destruction.
What really defines Occidentalism, in my mind, is the assumption by male-dominated societies that American men are essentially pussy-whipped by our women. By having a reasonably balanced society in terms of womenís rights (always room for improvement Ö), we present an image to the outside world that not only do we treat our women badly, they treat us men even worse in terms of disrespect.
The whole 2nd-term Clinton sex scandal epitomized this sort of thing: not only did we have a leader who clearly treated women in a degrading fashion, our political system was ready to can him on that basis. Look at it from the perspective of the rest of the world: weak leader, degenerate behavior, asinine political system. We lost respect on every level on that one.
Personally, my anger with Clinton was that the man simply couldnít jerk off whatever demon was trapped in his trousersóat least until he got out of office. Was that too much to ask given the stakes? After that he could fool around til Hillary shot him for all I cared. But you donít put everything at risk for just that, because reputation matters. In the end, our character is all we take with us to the grave.
Kerry is starting to sound the right notes in this campaign: not taking on the central goal of a Global War on Terrorism (defeating our enemies), but arguing the method. So heís stressing the importance of alliances and keeping old friends while adding new ones.
Would I like to see him push it farther? You bet. He needs to recast what this coalition is all about by eliminating the charge I just cited above: that itís just the flaccid West against the tough-as-nail-willing-to-die-on-a-dime Middle East. Do we accomplish this simply by getting meaner? Becoming more like the Israelis?
Absolutely not. We accomplish it by easternizing the coalition, by shading its occidental skin tone. We accomplish it by courting the New Core powers, making the deals that bring them to Iraq and thus create strategic despair among our enemies.
Iraqi insurgents staring across the line at Indian, Russian and Chinese soldiers will have a hard time with that Occidentalist bullshit that passes for warfighting morale. All of those countries know how to kill without remorseóespecially Muslims who challenge their sense of order. And there wonít be a public back home that wilts at the first sign of body bags.
Iraqi insurgents who peer across the streets at a truly global coalitionónot just West but Core-wideówill inevitably start muttering to themselves: ìWeíre screwed. This is pointless. There are too many of them to kill. We canít win. Letís take this fight somewhere else.î
The best part of this strategy is that the deals we need to make are the ones most Americans will cheer: letís reverse ourselves on Kyoto like the Russians did and get the Europeans back. Letís push for Russia joining both the WTO and NATO. Letís forget about missile defense shields in Asia and start talking to China and Japan about howótogetheróweíll force Kim Jong-very-Ill out of power and turn Korea into the next Asian FDI-suctioning powerhouse. Letís make India the ìmajor, non-NATO allyî of choice in South Asia.
Do any of these deals sound that hard to make? Do you see more loss of U.S. ìprestigeî in these horse trades or in the deal we just cut with al-Sadr in Najaf?
Iraq has been stripped bare by looters. The only way weíre going to reconnect Iraq to the world is if we get the Core as a whole to do some major-league investments there. Do you think there are Russian oil companies looking for new sources to develop? Do you think the Chinese are interested in stable sources of energy? Do you think India wants to play a bigger security role in region?
In the end, I see loads of obviously self-serving motives on each side, which is how I know these deals can be cut.
Thatís not to say the Bush Administration is doing some very good things. Pushing the free trade agenda in the Middle East is a great one. But as I said on Blitzerís CNN show: Americans have to ask themselves who can cut the better deals that must lie ahead if weíre going to really prevail in Iraq. We cannot kill out way out of this one, nor simply withdraw. Look at your history of successful counter-insurgencies: either we offer the Iraqis a happier ending than the one al-Sadr, bin Laden and others offer, or weíll simply pervert ourselves in the process of killing as many of them as we can. We cannot defeat these people with violence, for itís all they know and theyíve got nowhere better to go if thatís the nature of the fight we offer. We need to overwhelm them with boots on the ground, a clear sense that this occupation is both West and East in origins, and hope that connectivity can be made both real and permanent.