Perception in Mideast does matter
Letter to the Editor | Thursday, October 5, 2006
Like Katie Palmitier (Oct. 4 column “Candidates must discuss real issues”), I also wish that Iraq were a simple screw-up by a simplistic president, because then the solution would be obvious. And maybe Bush is as illogical in private as he is inarticulate on television. But as the “reality-based community” loves to point out, things are rarely so black and white, and the Iraq issue definitely isn’t.
There is at least one compelling reason for invading Iraq that the Bush Administration has not, and cannot ever use in its rationale for invading Iraq. As Bush, the “neo-cons” and many others understood it, the “strategic equilibrium” in the Middle East was that Muslims and their governments had to either pay jihadist groups huge amounts of extortion money (Saudi Arabia et al), or formally assist in the jihad against America (Iran, Syria, Iraq).
The neocons, and many others now busy forgetting they ever agreed with the neocons about anything, all agreed that whatever the United States did in Iraq (or wherever it would intervene in the Mideast) would not last without establishing a basis for individual freedom in those countries, instead of the dictatorships that have for decades suppressed Muslim growth, initiative, etc.
Unfortunately, then it wouldn’t be humanitarian imperialism anymore. It would be something far more ambitious and threatening – an attempt to demolish the Mideastern order, primarily in America’s national interest. How many moderate, quietly pro-American Muslim governments could have supported THAT rationale? It would have been impossible for a government in a Muslim-majority nation NOT to oppose the United States.
Had Bush found weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq, that would still not have justified the war. So many other very anti-American countries have WMDs and/or the money to buy them easily. But the WMD rationale was marketable. It was something that could fit the 45-second attention span of most voters, something that could be crammed into an abbreviated letter on an op-ed page. It would satisfy the liberals who cringe at any notion of waging war for national self-interest. And everyone – everyone – was absolutely sure they were there.
But that’s all too much work for most liberals. Instead, Bush is an idiot, a sock-puppet of Halliburton. A bumbling moron whose two victories against “cerebral” faux-sophisticates was only due to stupid rednecks who pull the GOP lever as soon as Bush mutters “abortion” and “family values.” Blacks and whites are just so much simpler than the truth.
Reality is at least part-perception and part-reality. The war on terrorism is heavily perception-driven, especially for the jihadis. And the perception isn’t that America cannot win in Iraq if it doesn’t achieve some remote semblance of unity. It’s that, no matter how many al-Sadrites, Badrists, Sunni insurgents or al-Qaeda operatives Americans kill in Iraq, Bush is facing political collapse at home. Of course liberals are patriots with their own vision for a great America. Of course they aren’t gleeful for every blow they land on Bush because they are unpatriotic. But what difference does it make?