Wednesday, May 19, 2004
So, in the spirit of constructive criticism, lets take a look at a recent piece from NRO - "Kana's Iraq." Younadem Kana is a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, a leader of Iraq's Assyrian Democratic Movement. He's supportive of the U.S. and of democratization. Let's take a look at what he has to say.
Actually, before we do that, let's explain who the Assyrians are. The Assyrians are a Christian, non-Arab indigenous Iraqi people. Saddam ruthlessly suppressed the Assyrians. But he was far milder in his treatment of the Chaldeans - also Christians. Indeed, Tariq Aziz - Deputy Prime Minister under Saddam - was a Chaldean Christian. And the Chaldeans in America were less enthusiastic about ousting Saddam than were the Assyrians. Why the disparity?
Well, the Chaldeans and Assyrians are pretty much the same people, ethnically, and they are both Christian. But the Chaldeans are an Eastern Rite Catholic group and the Assyrians are, generally, Nestorian Christians. And the Chaldeans are scattered throughout Iraq while the Assyrians are concentrated in a pocket of the Kurdish north (and have complained about persecution not only by Arabs but by Kurds). These differences have had important political ramifications; the Assyrians, with a national church and geographic concentration, have a far stronger national identity, and so bore the brunt of Saddam's brutal program of Arabization to a considerably greater degree than the Chaldeans did. Saddam basically was following a "divide and rule" strategy: turn the Chaldeans and the Assyrians against each other.
In any event, the point of this digression is just to set the stage for where this guy is coming from. He is likely a very good guy, but that doesn't mean he's an objective source. The Assyrians, in particular, really need the whole federal but unified Iraq thing to work out: if Iraq were partitioned, they'd be alone against the Kurds in the north; if there's a Shiite theocracy, Christians are in trouble; and if there a new Sunni dictatorship, they are in even bigger trouble. So you would expect Kana to tell an audience of pro-war Americans exactly what they want to hear to keep them in Iraq.
(I can't stress one thing enough: I'm not saying he's not telling the truth, or that he's not worth listening to. I'm just saying we have to be a little more sophisticated than good-guy = tells-truth, bad-guy = tells-lies.)
Okay, that's out of the way. So what does he have to say?
For the first time in the history of Iraq — for the first time in 14 centuries — our neighbors, and the majority of people today, recognize us [Assyrian Christians], and acknowledge us. We are all together on the Governing Council, and the cabinet; our rights are guaranteed under the fundamental law" (referring to the provisional constitution signed on March 8).
So far as I can tell, the only fact here is that Kana is a member of the Governing Council. How we extrapolate from that to universal acceptance of Assyrian autonomy by the majority of the people, I'm not clear on.
"The media are very bad," Kana observes regretfully. "This is mostly because they are the tools of Islamist fanatics; because they are unhappy with the democratic freedom process." It's not just al-Jazeera: "Even the Western media are very bad. They are trying to sell their product, so they keep exaggerating the bad spots.
I am really tired of hearing this sort of thing, and very disappointed to discover that our Iraqi friends have learned their talking points so well.
Over the Abu Ghraib scandal, Kana is unruffled. "Yeah, we condemn that — but it's certainly not the official or normal policy of American troops in Iraq. . .If Iraqis are upset with the American troops, it's mostly because they are very nice — too nice — with these criminals, dealing with them as prisoners of war. But they are not prisoners of war, they are criminals; they are killers. But Geneva Convention rules put pressure on the Americans to be nice, and to take good care of them."
There are two distressing things about this little quote. First, here's an Iraqi ally, and he has - or wants to project - the kind of sneering contempt for humanitarian norms that was popular stateside in October of 2001, not now. What does that say about our real image over there? Second, this guy is supposed to be one of the authentic leaders of Iraq. We know that a large number of prisoners processed through Abu Ghraib were subsequently cleared and released - in other words, they were suspects, but turned out not to be criminals. Where's the hint of sympathy for them? From a fellow Iraqi? Or perhaps he also hasn't read the report. But third, and most important, here's an Iraqi democrat eager to talk about how you can't be "too nice" with prisoners. Somehow, that doesn't reassure me of his democratic credentials. And neither does this quote:
Kana explains, "we will be imposing Iraqi laws, and there will be no more Geneva Convention conditions. The death penalty will be back again; he who kills will be killed. And in my opinion, this will bring the violence down very much. So I call on public opinion to be more confident that, on July 1, things will change."
Yes, that's very encouraging. No Geneva Convention in the new, democratic Iraq.
(Before you object: yes, I know, the Geneva Convention is designed for war between armies, not for operations against terrorists and criminals, and you *could* interpret what he's saying to mean just that the Iraqis, dealing with a domestic insurgency, would have the lattitude to deal with the insurgency appropriately rather than have to debate whether the Conventions apply or not. But that's a lot of nuance to extrapolate from what sure sounds to me like swaggering with a nightstick.)
Finally, there's this:
Kana insists that once the Coalition moves out, foreign extremists will lose their strongest card. They will no longer "be able to move the emotions of simple people by saying they are fighting a holy war against the occupier," because, after June 30, there will be no occupier. He adds that the U.S. troops that do stay will be removed from danger, in safer camps. "When we need them, we will call on them, but they will no longer be easy targets in the streets."
Now, here's what I want to understand about this. First, what makes Kana think that he and his fellows won't be considered to be lackeys of the Americans after July 1? And if they are so considered, in what sense will the extremists have lost their strongest card? Second, if, after July 1, the Americans can retreat to distant bases, and the Iraqis can take over policing, why can't they do it now? What is going to happen in the next six weeks to radically change the situation on the ground? And third, why should Americans think it's a good thing that an Iraqi government can order our boys into combat against their domestic enemies, but a bad thing that an American occupation government can do so?
The best way to convince yourself that things are going badly in Iraq is to listen to those with an interest in propagating the view that things are going well.