Tuesday, January 11, 2005

We Interrupt this Program...

This seldom gets done here. Atrios and other blogs have a larger audience and a better platform for this kind of thing. But since it gets a bit long winded, and it isn't completely out of character, this is as good a place as any for a rebuttal to David Brooks in 30...make that 100... words or less (well, we'll see about that).

How much of what he says, was said about Vietnam? "Vietnamization" was supposed to secure the country because the Vietnamese would "take responsibility" for their government. As if they didn't have one in the first place (there isn't one in Iraq, Mr. Brooks; had you noticed?), and there wasn't a stable social structure that we pretty much helped destabilize (war, no matter how much Mr. Brooks and his ilk want to assert otherwise, is NOT a stabilizing influence on any nation or culture).

In fact, there were institutions in Vietnam, and the childish idea that the Vietnamese didn't want freedom (what, they wanted war instead?) while the Iraqis do (want freedom, that is. Is that anything like wanting the foreign armies to get the hell out?) Can institutions even be built in chaos? Do they arise like the logos from primordial disorder, spreading order as they go? Seems to contradict the more realistic political philosophies of Hobbes and Machiavelli, as well as most history. Institutions that arise to impose order on chaos tend, in fact, to be authoritarian and dictatorial, not democratic and egalitarian.

"Vietnamization" also carried the concept that, once the U.S. had "turned over" the war to the Vietnamese (it was their country, we were just using it to field test our "domino theory"), they would carry on without us, plucky people that they were. The images of the last helicopters to lift off from Saigon are still fresh in the minds of us young enough to remember when they were first broadcast on TV. It didn't take long for the war to end when we left, and it isn't hard to see that we were the reason the war went on as long as it did, and caused as much damage as it did. Well, it isn't hard for people willing to take responsibility for their actions in the world; which doesn't necessarily include the majority of Americans alive at any one time.

So what, exactly, is Mr. Brooks saying? That history does not repeat itself? That we can learn from the mistakes of the past, and the lesson is that we can do it all again and do it right this time? That, as long as our hearts are pure, our efforts will never fail? Ironically, because he would not consider himself "liberal," even in Reinhold Niebuhr's sense of the term, Mr. Brooks recalls this bit of insight:

Modern man's confidence in his virtue caused an equally unequivocal rejection of the Christian idea of the ambiguity of human virtue. In the liberal world the evils in human nature and history were ascribed to social institutions or to ignorance or to some other manageable defect in human nature or environment." Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History, (New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1952, p. 4)

New institutions, in other words, will save us. Save us from the "pre-modern" Iraqi culture; save us from our own failed attempts at imposing democracy on another people and country; save them from the "ignorance" of the insurgents, or the defects in our original plan (or lack of one) following on our invasion. There is no ambiguity in this situation or in the human heart that cannot be solved by still more "positive thinking" and the establishment of a good institution, such as the concept of a majority that rules because it is right, not because it is powerful. That this is precisely the problem our military faces, and provokes, is of no matter. Mr. Brooks is confident this power will occur and be effective when the right institutions are finally established and are allowed to flourish.

How, exactly, they will be established, much less flourish, much less perform this miracle that cannot otherwise occur, is yet to be determined. But be optimistic, and everything will turn out for the best. This is, after all, the best of all possible worlds. To deny it, is practically un-American.

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