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December 11, 2005

Reality and its Discontents

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

I recently cast my vote for "Best Conservative Blog" in the 2005 Weblog Awards.  One of the things that inspired my vote was this series of posts by Jeff Goldstein of Protein Wisdom. 

No, I didn't vote for Jeff.  (He's not even on the ballot.)  One thing that fascinated me about his posts, which imagine fictional conversations between Iraqi militants, is that they demonstrate how focused many right-wing bloggers are on the lesser problem facing Iraq -- insurgents concerned with general anti-Western jihad -- and how totally unfocused they are on the greater problem -- the immense difficulty of constructing a stable government of any kind on top of the Bosnia-style ethnic strife that divides the country.  Even more darkly fascinating is the way that right-wing bloggers escape to fiction when the actual facts about Iraq become too politically troubling for them to handle. 

There's approximately no chance that we'll ever see the jihadists running Iraq, even if we leave tomorrow.  This isn't to say that they won't be a problem -- they kill people, temporarily dominate small portions of territory, and cause lots of human misery -- but the fate of the country will never be in their hands.  The Shiite and Kurdish forces are strong enough on their own to keep that from happening.  However, with the profits from unequally distributed oil to be divided, a swirled-together population that will make partition a bloody mess, a long history of ethnoreligious hatred that has occasionally resulted in mass slaughter, and an Iraqi army in large part made of angry Shiite militiamen, it's hard to see what kind of stable government is supposed to emerge.  Any political capital that we could've used to safeguard minority rights, push for genuine democracy, or improve the condition of women is being extracted from us by the Shiite leaders whose continued support our presence depends on. 

This is what I've called the real Iraq problem, and it's a problem that Republicans engage with at the risk of losing their prized sense of superiority over Howard Dean and French people.  Live in a fantasy world where the real threat to Iraq's future is a ragtag military foe that can be destroyed with little more than JDAMs and resolve, and you can happily castigate antiwar forces as weaklings who help the enemy.  But engage with reality, and you'll see that averting civil war depends on a demographic and political situation that lends itself to no sexy solutions and is beyond our power to significantly change. 

So whom did I vote for?  Gregory Djerejian of the Belgravia Dispatch.  I left Jeff's site for Greg's place, and got linked to Kanan Makiya's editorial in the NYT covering the problems with the Iraqi constitution.  Makiya points out that the radically decentralized government proposed in the Constitution would cut the Sunnis out of the oil and tip the country towards civil war.  Rather than making up fictional dialogues between militants and using them to smear Democrats as unwitting supporters of the enemy, Greg studies up on details of the Iraqi Constitution and keeps his eyes open about the situation on the ground. 

This isn't to say that Greg and I agree.  We don't.  Even when he gets mad at Donald Rumsfeld, Greg seems to think that a continued American presence could increase the chance of a stable Iraqi government, and that continued struggle there is justified.  I don't see that another few years of American involvement is going to create any dramatic net benefit, and I'd much rather save the American lives and money and have the military on hand to avert mass slaughter in other parts of the world.  But I like opponents who go out and look at reality, and I'll take this opportunity to reward such an opponent with my vote. 

December 11, 2005 in Iraq | Permalink


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Rather than making up fictional dialogues between militants and using them to smear Democrats as unwitting supporters of the enemy
...which of course is the extent of my writings on the Iraq war, these fictional dialogues...
Even more darkly fascinating is the way that right-wing bloggers escape to fiction when the actual facts about Iraq become too politically troubling for them to handle.
Well, it wouldn't be "darkly fascinating" when fiction writers escape to fiction, would it? And that's what my background is.

Still, you couldn't find any serious posts on my site about Iraq? I've only written maybe a gazillion of them.

Talk about bracketing out the inconvenient to try to support a sophomoric thesis.

Posted by: Jeff G | Dec 11, 2005 9:52:23 PM

Actually, I found the first thing I talked about (general disconnection from the real problems with Iraq) in the "factual" posts first. Initially, the link was to this post and I didn't bother to make the fiction point. The point about missing the real problem is immediately relevant there -- if Shiites and Kurds are capable of holding insurgent at bay, the insurgent strategy dreamed of in that post comes to nothing. And if we have only minimal capabilities to avert civil war, there's a good positive argument for leaving regardless of what's going on with the insurgency.

It's only when I saw that you had fictional stuff going back more than a year that misconceived the nature of the insurgency that I changed the topic. Fiction allows you to convince people with conjectures about the nature of the insurgency without providing any data to back them up. It works even when the data is against it, and it allows you to go forward without delving into real facts. And that's the problem here.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Dec 11, 2005 10:21:44 PM

I check out the Belgravia Dispatch everyday. I rarely agree with Gregory Djerejian either but I have always thought that he truly believes what he writes. It is one of the few conservative blogs I have come across which is not in constant spin mode.

Posted by: Blue Neponset | Dec 12, 2005 10:38:57 AM

This piece mocking the triumphalists is rather fun. http://www.belgraviadispatch.com/archives/004912.html What makes writings by Greg like this is the admittance that it's going to take one hell of a lot more commitment than we are currently demonstrating (in years, manpower, money, and humility) to win. Which is a step up yet.

But as Matt and Ezra have been at pains to ask for a while "well ok, but what if we don't want to pay that?" The analysis that keeping 500,000 soldiers there for a decade or more is worth it, or suggestions regardinng what to do when we're in their on the cheap, don't really seem to be there.

Posted by: Tony Vila | Dec 12, 2005 2:30:55 PM

thx for the kind words ezra.

Posted by: greg | Dec 16, 2005 12:24:54 AM

I voted for Belgravia Dispatch too. Not that the Greg fellow is a Juan Cole, but he does tend to think more deeply than the typical conservative.

Posted by: Herman | Dec 16, 2005 7:29:41 PM

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