Listening to part of President Bush’s press conference in Estonia (see the middle section of the linked article for a small discussion), two things struck me.
The first was the support Bush still gets from a country such as Estonia, so recently emerged from its own long nightmare of Soviet domination, and undergoing the struggles all such nations experience in trying to implement the goal of becoming a democratic and functioning nation. Estonians and other post-Soviet Eastern Europeans understand the hardships involved better than most nations on earth do; certainly better than we in the United States.
The second was that Bush is not abandoning the Iraqis to the tender mercies of realpolitik–at least rhetorically speaking, at least not yet.
As I wrote not too long ago [I'm in a hurry so will supply the links later]–in dysfunctional nations, there are mostly two choices: chaos or tyranny. If the tyranny is neither too tyrannical nor too dangerous to the rest of the world, tyranny may sometimes be the best of a bad business. The Shah’s Iran is a good example of that; it was replaced with a far worse tyranny.
As Bush pointed out in his press conference, not only Iraq but Lebanon is undergoing a chaotic passage right now. Both nations are struggling democracies attempting to resist both tyranny and chaos. Of course it’s hard, slow, and exceedingly difficult going.
The forces of evil (yes, I will most definitely use that word) are determined to sow chaos in both countries, and in any country in the area that tries to wrest itself from the grip of tyranny. Those pernicious forces know that chaos suits their purposes–not only tempermentally, because they love its nihilistic violence, but strategically as well, because it frightens the populations of the countries involved into desiring the strong hand of a strong leader to make a semblance of order out of the chaos.
Another strategic aim of these forces (which hasn’t been reached so far in the case of Iraq, but might be close to being reached) is to frighten and exhaust the US into abandoning the nation in question to either its chaos or its tyrant (who cares which? then the news will go off our front pages)–or, as the lamentable Jonathan Chait suggested recently in the LA Times, to restore an especially vicious tyrant (none other than Saddam Hussein himself) to power, in order to control the chaos. The truth is that in a place such as Iraq, the chaos was always underneath the surface, waiting to erupt.
And no matter what we do and which we choose: the support of a tyrant, or the attempt to pass through the chaos towards a better government for that country– the chaos and/or the tyranny inherent in such places can always be blamed on the US. And we can run from that chaos, crying that it’s too much for us.
I don’t blame the US for either the tyranny or the chaos. I do blame us, however, for not committing fully to doing whatever needed to be done to subdue the chaos when it first erupted, and for not being ready enough for it. Looters should have been shot at the outset. Al Sadr should have been defanged before his movement had time to grow.
I understand why it wasn’t done; we didn’t want to seem to be a heavy-handed occupying force. But we were an occupying force, occupying a nation that had been defeated in war. We used to know how to do this sort of thing; the aftermath of World War II and the occupation of Germany and Japan are excellent examples. But we no longer seem to have the belief that such a thing is possible. And that belief is key. Without it, we will abandon these countries to their Hobson’s choice of chaos or tyranny.