It began nearly on the day that Saddam’s statue in central Baghdad was brought down by American soldiers as jubilant Iraqis looked on. “This war was not worth a child’s finger,” wrote the English novelist Julian Barnes in a Guardian op-ed. That was published fully a year before the insurgency got underway, when the argument could not be made–as it was later made–that democracy is all well and good but that order of any kind, even tyrannical order, is much to be preferred.
For the next seven years, the insurgents murdered coalition soldiers and Iraqi civilians with equal abandon, right up to the morning of the election. Yet somehow the killing sprees (grotesquely replete with the cutting off of children’s fingers) were treated by the world’s great opiners not as the acts of evil men to be confronted and stopped, but purely as a function of the American presence in Iraq.
In this strange moral calculus, all the blood that was shed–including American blood–was on America’s hands. It was also, by implication, a stain on America’s “experiment” of “imposing” democracy on so obviously unwilling a people.
In the midst of those bloodbaths, the U.S. ceded civilian control to Iraqi authorities, who then conducted four democratic elections. I still remember the incredulity among the war’s opponents, bordering on open dismay, when the parliamentary elections five years ago proved an inspiring success.
But the critics could relax, at least for a few years: The killing in Iraq did not abate. Successive Iraqi prime ministers were treated with none of the deference Western diplomats would routinely accord the masters of Egypt or Vietnam or even Syria. The division of Iraq was a respectable topic of conversation.
And yet throughout all of this, Iraqis somehow held fast to their idea of a democratic country. How was that possible? How could they not behave according to type, as inveterate sectarians and anti-Americans? Didn’t they perhaps miss the political clarity that dictatorship uniquely provides?
The late Michael Kelly knew the answer, and the answer was that Iraqis, unlike most of us in the West, knew tyranny, and therefore also knew what it meant to thirst for freedom.
Read the rest and understand that those who stroll the corridors of power today in America seem to thirst for many things… but freedom?
Not so much.
It’s a foreboding thing.