My Cold Dead Hands and Yours

by Kieran Healy on May 2, 2004

John just pipped me to a post on torture in Iraq. I had been thinking how, just last week, even quite sensible people were endorsing the idea that Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be giving interviews in the Arab media because—in Eugene Volokh’s words—“the very likely effect of statements such as this is to magnify the resolve of those who are trying to defeat us”. This was watery stuff when it first appeared, and seems a bit beside the point in the light of the images we’ve seen this week.

More generally, it seems to me that American war hawks continue to show little ability to put themselves in the position of the occupied Iraqis and ask how they might respond themselves in such circumstances. I find this odd because you’d think that a strong tradition of personal liberty and local autonomy backed in part by private gun ownership would predispose you to have that sort of sympathy. But, with some exceptions these sentiments are getting overridden by others.

{ 27 comments }

1

yabonn 05.02.04 at 12:35 pm

American war hawks continue to show little ability to put themselves in the position of the occupied Iraqis

The more i look at it the more i’m pessimistic about it.

First, there’s the “they hate freedom” crowd. Yeeehaw.

But more liberal types don’t really get it neither. Sending messages, nation building, blah. I wonder if there’s not a complex of the “greatest generation” at work there.

The whole media/opinion in u.s. seems, for a very large part, to be still bouncing between “why do they hate us” and “they’ll thank us afterwards”.

It sadly took the torture scandal to shake a bit this self-referential focus (“what will they think of us?”).

2

JohnWendt 05.02.04 at 1:43 pm

“First, there’s the ‘they hate freedom’ crowd.”

Actually what “they” hate is what they perceive as license. The distinction is one that conservatives ought to appreciate.

3

PG 05.02.04 at 1:47 pm

I remember this from nearly a year ago.

The metaphor I’ve had in my mind came from the subtitle to Fallows’s long and excellent piece in the Atlantic Monthly before the war: “Are we ready for this long-term relationship?”

People kept talking about the nation of Iraq as though it was the battered wife of Saddam Hussein. The wife couldn’t get away from him on her own, so we would have to go in and save her. And now, as police officers intervening in domestic disputes have long known, we are being surprised by the lack of gratitude.

4

Phill 05.02.04 at 2:45 pm

The big problem with the Conservatives is that they have started to believe their own propaganda. They genuinely believe that the media has a liberal bias and no amount of fawning coverage from the NYT and CNN will change that.

According to O’Niel Bush thought that the SEC over-reacted to the fraud at Enron, there was no way Kenny Boy could be responsible. The Enron response seems to already have kicked in here. Before even starting an investigation we have pronouncements that this is an isolated incident, that no senior officers are implicated etc.

To paraphrase what was said to Abna Louima, “This is Haliburton Time’

It will be interested to see the difference between the US and the British response here. The British are obliged to investigate, if they fail to do so the International Criminal court has jurisdiction.

The neo-cons idea going into Iraq was to demonstrate the overwhelming superiority of US power and the fact that the US was not affraid to use it. This seems to have been the common goal beyond the immediate ‘strategic’ goals of grabbing the oil, settling the score with Saddam and fighting wars for Likud.

If you look at the outcome from this adventure it is certain to be exactly the opposite. The US is incapable of another Iraq sized adventure as long as the occupation of Iraq continues – and the fiction of June 30th will do nothing to change that. The earliest that the US is likely to be out of Iraq is 2008.

It will be much longer still before the US embarks on another neo-con adventure under the new doctrine of ‘Oderint Dum Metuant’. At least ten to fifteen years after leaving Iraq. That would be 2018 to 2023.

To competing powers ‘Pre-emptive response’ translates to ‘unrestrained aggression’. This creates the motive to build military forces to rival the US. The fact that the economies of the rival powers are growing much faster than the US and are operating far below their potential creates the opportunity.

By the time the US is ready to embark on another neo-con adventure it may no longer have the ability. As far as global dominance goes the neo-cons have blown it.

5

yabonn 05.02.04 at 5:36 pm

“Actually what ?they? hate is what they perceive as license.”

True that lots of muslim regimes have bad human right record, sometimes bordering the nutty, taliban style.

But the freedom hater thing reminds me of a comic (can’t remember which one) : baddie wakes in the morning up and thinks “aaah i feel so wonderfully evil today!”.

Well i don’t think the fighters in falluja wake up in the morning saying to themselves “let’s go fight license out of that islamic land”, rather “let’s go and kick out the judeo/christian crusaders out of this islamic land”. The first option may play a part, but i think far, far, down the list. Poor W : these pesky iraki won’t even admit they are the bad guys.

So the repressiveness of muslim regimes is i think mostly unrelated to the war in irak.

Problem is what consequences on the field may have that “they are all evil anyways” mentality.

6

Robin Green 05.02.04 at 7:23 pm

Yes, it’s a bit like the US propaganda efforts in Iraq, which included dropping messages from planes that read, in part: “If you are a terrorist, we will hunt you down and arrest you.”

Do the insurgents in Falluja think of themselves as terrorists? By and large, of course not.

7

Grand Moff Texan 05.02.04 at 10:09 pm

American war hawks continue to show little ability to put themselves in the position of the occupied Iraqis and ask how they might respond themselves in such circumstances
Because those we are liberating, having taken up the White Man’s Burden, are non-white, non-Christian.
They couldn’t possibly have as much self-respect as those of us who, occupied, would take up arms against our occupiers.
Behold! Our women mock their genitals! Truly, they are beneath my heel! For a moment, if only a moment, I no longer feel so powerless, so used, for I have someone to spit on!

8

Thomas 05.02.04 at 10:40 pm

I think that’s just not the case at all.

Coming from a strong tradition of personal liberty and local autonomy backed in part by private gun ownership, I think that, were I an Iraqi, I’d be showing the courage to actively cooperate with the US, in the hopes that Iraq would soon become a country that provided liberty and local autonomy. I’d like to think that, were I an Iraqi, I’d show no more hostility to the US occupation than I did to the regime of Saddam Hussein, which certainly didn’t come from a tradition of personal liberty and local autonomy.

There will always be those who hate the US, though, and sometimes they have a hard time imaging that others don’t.

9

Dan the Man 05.03.04 at 12:24 am

“Coming from a strong tradition of personal liberty and local autonomy backed in part by private gun ownership, I think that, were I an Iraqi, I’d be showing the courage to actively cooperate with the US”

Iraqi Constitution

“Article 17.

It shall not be permitted to possess, bear, buy, or sell arms except on licensure issued in accordance with the law.”

10

Thomas 05.03.04 at 1:53 am

Dan, that’s really irrelevant, isn’t it? First, simply looking at the language, we don’t know what this means, because we don’t know what the licensure requirements look like. But, more importantly, that doesn’t say anything meaningful about the choices before the average Iraqi. I mean, I support a right to bear arms, but I’d support a system that made every citizen just like the citizens of Washington, D.C., who can’t own firearms, rather than choose a theocratic or fascist state.

11

Jack Lecou 05.03.04 at 3:39 am

So what if say, the French, were to invade the US to “liberate” us from our despotic oppressor?

In our hypothetical scenario, the French troops quickly defeat the demoralized and ill equipped forces set against them, but then seem ill prepared for the aftermath. They successfully guard a few coal mines and movie studios, but make no move against the looters pilfering our museums and government offices. They install a puppet regime, which they populate with various partisan French officials and American expatriates – including one wanted for bank fraud in Canada. They sack all those who held positions in the the army, the police, all levels of civil administration and education. As is their wont, French firms move in and begin profiteering madly.

Not surprisingly (except maybe to the hawks back in Paris), a resistance movement springs up almost immediately. Initially made up of mostly rednecks and Republican loyalists, Francophobes and malcontents from all over the world soon arrive to aid in the struggle. This violence is opposed by the majority of the public, but there is little they can do (the insurgents are well armed, murderous, and secretive). Lacking a proper police force (they dissolved it, and haven’t managed to build a new one yet, nor did they bring one), the French military forces respond the only way they know how. Seemingly randomly, French patrols force their way into homes in the middle of the night to perform searches and haul adult males away for interrogation. Sometimes these arrests are based on intelligence, but usually that just means someone made up a name for a reward (or a respite from torture). Then too, sometimes the soldiers aren’t really sure if they’re at the right address anyway. The violence escalates, increasingly the French retreat into armored vehicles and behind checkpoints. A televangelist preacher takes the opportunity to gather an army of thugs and start trying to involve himself in the “democratic process”.

Its been more than a year since the invasion. The French have recently begun paying lip service to some form of new “international involvement” in the mess, but mostly that is because they can’t really afford it on their own anymore. In any case, the same old mix of corruption and incompetence still reigns behind the barricades of the puppet regime’s stronghold. Also, your toilet still doesn’t work, and half the time neither does the electricity or the telephone.

One day you see pictures of American prisoners being tortured, raped and humiliated by their smiling French captors. Chances are you know someone who’s been hauled away. How do you feel?

12

Dan the Man 05.03.04 at 4:52 am

“Dan, thats really irrelevant, isnt it? First, simply looking at the language, we dont know what this means, because we dont know what the licensure requirements look like.”

Actually, it is quite obviously relevent since the loudest supporters of “private gun ownership” in the USA are typically against any federal government licensing of guns while the Iraqi constitution mandates it. Indeed supporters of “private gun ownership” in the USA often like to act like those people who support federal government licensing of guns in the USA are against “private gun ownership” while the Iraqi constitution mandates federal government licensing of guns. However it is nice to know that you realize that federal government licensing of guns has absolutely nothing to do with restricting “private gun ownership”, that one can support “private gun ownership” while also supporting the federal government licensing of guns, and that people who believe otherwise are quacks.

“But, more importantly, that doesnt say anything meaningful about the choices before the average Iraqi. I mean, I support a right to bear arms, but Id support a system that made every citizen just like the citizens of Washington, D.C., who cant own firearms, rather than choose a theocratic or fascist state.”

You do realize, of course, that it’s quite normal for a theocratic or fascist state to not grant citizens a right to bear arms because they don’t want the citizens to overthrow their government right?

13

BP 05.03.04 at 10:14 am

You do realize, of course, that it’s quite normal for a theocratic or fascist state to not grant citizens a right to bear arms because they don’t want the citizens to overthrow their government right?

An assertion not supported by the facts, mot especially in the theocracies and fascist states of the Middle East.

In addition, “citizens” almost never overthrow governments. Nine times out of ten, when the dust has settled after a “popular” revolution, there’s some army dude sitting on the throne, not some citizen dude.

14

Robert Lyman 05.03.04 at 4:03 pm

Kieran,

This is a disappointing question coming from someone I often disagree with, but usually can respect.

I’m a conservative who keeps an AK in the back of the gun safe “just in case.” But that’s NOT “just in case” the government becomes democratic, or “just in case” a mass murder gets caught in town and put in jail, or “just in case” my buddies and I decide to impose a fascist or theocratic regime on our neighbors.

I can’t speak for the Iraqis shooting at our troops, but I think most of them are either Ba’athists or Islamofascists. I think the Iraqis who conform most closely to mainstream American conservative views on proper government are indeed bearing arms, but as police and soldiers on the side of the U.S., not as Sadrite militants.

It’s foolish to think that all revolution or all resistance fighting is equally honorable. This is not a hard concept to grasp, and the failure to grasp it is what I find disappointing. I would support a violent uprising to overthrow a dictator (although Jack’s conception of a despot is just asinine), and I would fight for my country if it were invaded. Yes, I’d even fight if Hillary Clinton were president, God forbid. She might be my worst political enemy, but there are certainly worse enemies in the world that her.

But I’d never in a million years bear arms under the standard of dictatorship and oppression, as many Iraqis seem to be doing.

15

BP 05.03.04 at 4:49 pm

But I’d never in a million years bear arms under the standard of dictatorship and oppression, as many Iraqis seem to be doing.

Saddam has been in US custody for some time, Mr. Lyman. Whoever the insurgents are fighting for, it ain’t him. Maybe they’re fighting for Hillary. God forbid, of course.

16

Robert Lyman 05.03.04 at 5:08 pm

BP,

Three points:

1) Sadr seems determined to set up an Iran-style theocracy. His soldiers appear to be fighting to make him a dictator.

2) Just because Saddam is in custody doesn’t mean that it is somehow impossible to fight for his return to power. Until he’s dead, it’s always a possibility: See, for instance, Napolean. Nor is it impossible for Ba’athists to fight to put a different “Saddam” in power.

3) If the Iraqis want Hillary, I say, let ’em have her. She’d really be an enormous improvement over Saddam, and hell, maybe she could midwife a real democracy over there. I’d much rather live under an absolute HRC monarchy than any current Middle Eastern government other than Israel’s, maybe the Iraqis feel the same way.

17

BP 05.03.04 at 7:17 pm

Mr. Lyman, there’s a lot of jockeying for power in Iraq, and people are choosing sides. For all the usual reasons: a slice of the pie if they happen to be on the winning team, not to wind up at the bottom of the heap when the shakeout has finished, a chance to remodel (part of) Iraq in the image they desire. They are however unlikely to choose sides, fight, and die, simply so that American bloggers thousands of miles away from Iraq can feel good about themselves.

18

Robert Lyman 05.03.04 at 8:54 pm

BP,

Perhaps your analysis is entirely correct; I certainly don’t know enough to contradict it.

But Kieran asked why gun-toting libertarian-minded conservatives (like myself) don’t show more sympathy for the insurgency in Iraq. The answer is simple: they aren’t fighting for anything I recognize as worthwhile. The ethos of the American Minuteman, as it is understood by modern conservatives (and perhaps that understanding is false, but it informs our worldview even so), is not “jockey for power,” it is “die for liberty.” I’m in sympathy with the latter, but not the former, unless the thrust for power is connected with the desire to implement, to borrow a phrase, “liberty and justice for all.”

I think that should have been obvious, and so I wonder why Kieran had to ask the question at all, unless his understanding of conservatives is severely stunted and/or jaundiced.

PS: it is possible that some of the insurgents are committed to liberty and equality, and think the US is an obstacle to both. I think that’s misguided, but I’m certainly sympathetic to their cause in that case.

19

Kieran Healy 05.03.04 at 10:12 pm

It’s foolish to think that all revolution or all resistance fighting is equally honorable. This is not a hard concept to grasp, and the failure to grasp it is what I find disappointing.

Well, I take your point and believe me I grasp the idea. But, while there’s sympathy as support someone’s position, there’s also sympathy as a capacity to put yourself in someone’s place and see, before endorsing or condemning them, whether you can understand why they are acting the way they are. I find that gun-toting libertarians (not my words!) seem inclined to line up with sentiments like “All these islamofascists understand is force” or “I don’t understand why they haven’t just embraced our unbeatable system of freedoms” more than “I can understand how our occupying army would provoke this kind of resistance, and we probably should have forseen it.”

20

Thomas 05.03.04 at 11:02 pm

Kieran, in that limited sense, I have sympathy for the Islamofascists and the Ba’athists, as I’d have had sympathy with the Nazis and the Fascists in WWII, and as I’d have had with the Stalinists later. That is, I can understand why they act the way that they do. Irrational systems of thought are often understandable and predictable.

I just don’t see how any of that is connected to an affection for personal liberty or local autonomy.

I don’t see anything inconsistent with those sentiments–which obviously aren’t shared by those battling US forces in Iraq–and the sentiment that “All these islamofascists understand is force.” I also don’t think there’s anything inconsistent with that sentiment and the sentiment “I can understand how our occupying army would provoke this kind of resistance, and we probably should have forseen it.” I’m not at all surprised that those who reject our values would reject our occupation, and I was never under the illusion that everyone in Iraq shared our values. That they don’t share our values may well mean that we shouldn’t refer to our own values in attempting to change their behavior.

And I’m wondering what kind of sympathy you’re capable of, since you seem to misunderstand the thinking amd the sentiments of both the gun-toting libertarian in the US and the gun-toting insurgent in Iraq.

21

Steve 05.04.04 at 2:26 am

And I’m wondering what kind of sympathy you’re capable of, since you seem to misunderstand the thinking amd the sentiments of both the gun-toting libertarian in the US and the gun-toting insurgent in Iraq.

Thomas, I don’t think Kieran was addressing the narrower concern of sympathy for men fighting for the cause they believe in that the Stalinists or Fascists had. My read is that Kieran was trying to signal via his Jim Henley link (as libertarian isolationist Henley has been hitting this point fairly repeatedly of late) that some of the strong supporters of the Second Amendment in this country might have similar reactions were if someplace — say Waco — invaded by a group of outsiders who seemed to them to be unconstrained by law, unlikely to leave anytime soon, and prone to killing and humiliating their fellow townsmen. Would it engender enough anger and resentment to cause people to pick up a rifle and take a potshot? Not if it was the ATF, but what if it was the UN? And that’s where the “personal liberty” and “local autonomy” questions start to come up.

If you think that the overwhelming majority of those bearing arms against American soldiers and marines are Islamicists and Baathists, obviously this doesn’t hold, but at what point does the average gun-toting regular guy in Fallujah start to serious contemplate joining up with the insurgents to get a crack at a Marine patrol? Or, as I fear, have we already crossed that point for a lot of people?

22

Thomas 05.04.04 at 3:56 am

Steve, I’m having a hard time recognizing the portrait of our troops you’ve drawn–unconstrained by law, unlikely to leave anytime soon, and prone to killing and humiliating the people of Iraq doesn’t sound like our occupation. But even if that were an accurate description, those facts wouldn’t explain why people have taken up arms against the US. After all, the fact that Saddam’s regime was unconstrained by law, permanent, and absolutely bloodthirsty never led these same individuals to take up arms. Those factors can’t be the motivation. It must be something else.

I confess, I don’t know what the average guy in Fallujah thinks. But we do know, because we have polling data, that the majority of Iraqis favor a short and successful occupation by the US. The insurgents do not share those goals.

23

Dan the Man 05.04.04 at 5:15 am

“An assertion not supported by the facts, mot especially in the
theocracies and fascist states of the Middle East.”

Wrong. Every fascist and theocratic country in the Middle East regulates guns.

“In addition, “citizens” almost never overthrow governments.”

Wrong.

“Nine times out of ten, when the dust has settled after a “popular” revolution,
there’s some army dude sitting on the throne, not some citizen dude.”

Of course the army dude is a citizen. Duh.

24

BP 05.04.04 at 8:14 am

The ethos of the American Minuteman, as it is understood by modern conservatives (and perhaps that understanding is false, but it informs our worldview even so), is not “jockey for power,” it is “die for liberty.”

Power is liberty, Mr. Lyman. Powerlessness means submission to whomever has more power, or death. Power is the reason why US tanks are rolling into Baghdad, and not Iraqi tanks into Washington. Power facilitates freedom of action, lack of power constrains it. You cannot fight for ‘liberty’. That’s a figure of speech. Liberty is an abstraction. You can’t fight for a figure of speech. You can only fight for control: of resources, of terrain, of assets. He who has control can determine the course of his own actions: liberty. He who has no power will have his choices determined largely by others.

It will become worthwhile for the average Iraqi to support the US when the US has a large-scale monopoly of violence within Iraq. Only then can the US be a guarantor of liberty. Otherwise the US is just another player in the power-grab.

25

Barry 05.04.04 at 3:08 pm

‘Dan the Man’, it looks like those licensing regulations were under an American-imposed government.

Unless Saddam was using ‘http://www.cpa-iraq.org/government/TAL.html’.

26

Dan the Man 05.04.04 at 3:26 pm

“`Dan the Man’, it looks like those licensing regulations were under an American-imposed government.

You got the point.

27

Steve 05.05.04 at 2:07 am

Steve, I’m having a hard time recognizing the portrait of our troops you’ve drawn—unconstrained by law, unlikely to leave anytime soon, and prone to killing and humiliating the people of Iraq doesn’t sound like our occupation.

I was actually thinking about the ATF in Waco (and, in particular, two Americans’ read on that particular situation), but your mileage may vary. People’s perceptions, especially those who consider themselves oppressed by a government they don’t feel a connection to, may not bear much of a resemblence to reality.

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