Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy

by Henry Farrell on December 6, 2003

Extracts from a piece in today’s “NYT”:

bq. As the guerrilla war against Iraqi insurgents intensifies, American soldiers have begun wrapping entire villages in barbed wire. In selective cases, American soldiers are demolishing buildings thought to be used by Iraqi attackers. They have begun imprisoning the relatives of suspected guerrillas, in hopes of pressing the insurgents to turn themselves in. …

bq. “If you have one of these cards, you can come and go,” coaxed Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman, the battalion commander whose men oversee the village, about 50 miles north of Baghdad. “If you don’t have one of these cards, you can’t.” The Iraqis nodded and edged their cars through the line. Over to one side, an Iraqi man named Tariq muttered in anger. “I see no difference between us and the Palestinians,” he said. “We didn’t expect anything like this after Saddam fell.” …

Underlying the new strategy, the Americans say, is the conviction that only a tougher approach will quell the insurgency and that the new strategy must punish not only the guerrillas but also make clear to ordinary Iraqis the cost of not cooperating. “You have to understand the Arab mind,” Capt. Todd Brown, a company commander with the Fourth Infantry Division, said as he stood outside the gates of Abu Hishma. “The only thing they understand is force — force, pride and saving face.” …

bq. “With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them,” Colonel Sassaman said.



Kieran Healy 12.06.03 at 11:16 pm

“You have to understand the Arab mind,” Capt. Todd Brown, a company commander with the Fourth Infantry Division, said as he stood outside the gates of Abu Hishma. “The only thing they understand is force — force, pride and saving face.” …

There must be an error in the interview transcription. From the context of the story, he clearly means “the American mind.”


Jeremy Osner 12.07.03 at 12:00 am

With a heavy dose of fear and violence…, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them.


Jeremy Osner 12.07.03 at 12:01 am

I want to say something about that but I cannot figure out what…


james 12.07.03 at 12:08 am

I’d like to be the first to make the “just imagine if he’d said “black” or, especially, “Jewish” instead of “Arab” – and if he were, say, French…” point.


Ray 12.07.03 at 12:19 am

Timeless rules of human nature: fear, honor, and interest. For Saddamites and their fellow travelers, they fear what their fellows will do to those who cooperate with the new regime, their honor is impugned by an American occupation they feel has humiliated them, and so long as they believe we can be defeated, their interest calculations wish for a return of the old in some form (not necessarily Saddam himself, but his faction).

We’re undermining that calculation. We want them to fear us more than their fellows. We want their interest calculations to be informed by information regarding their inevitable defeat so that they turn around. Unfortunately, honor is the hardest one to reset.


freddie 12.07.03 at 1:20 am

Seems a parallel to what the Israel forces have been doing, like it or not, in order to clamp down on terrorism (if you are pro-Israel) or to intimidate and oppress the arabs (if you are pro-Palestinian)…will force work in either case? Not sure? Is there an approach that will? Not from what I have thus far seen. Of course all countries detest an occupying force. But then Israel occupies land taken in war to defend itself; Iraq seems to need a madman dictator to slaughter their citizens in order to make them obey.


Andrew Edwards 12.07.03 at 4:09 am

With a heavy dose of fear and violence… I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them

When did the US military turn into a savage parody of itself?

I keep resisting Vietnam metaphors, and they keep trying to prove me wrong.


Walt Pohl 12.07.03 at 4:25 am

Here’s a policy that has the rare virtue of being wrong from both a moral and a practical standpoint. (From a practical point of view, converting Iraq from a country where people felt neutral to us to a country where everyone hates us isn’t really a net gain.)


nameless 12.07.03 at 5:08 am

“We are only killing you because we want to help.”


Evan 12.07.03 at 6:16 am

…”War is peace.”


Kaushik 12.07.03 at 6:34 am

It works in the short term. Over the long term, the cost that you pay would not be considered sustainable (both literally and figuratatively).

I was going through Amitav Ghosh’s archive earlier today (am happily linking to them everywhere). In an article he wrote earlier this year, he made an interesting comparison of Iraq with the British use of force in India in 1857 and talked about why the same method would not work now


Doug 12.07.03 at 12:03 pm

There must be an error in the interview transcription. From the context of the story, he clearly means ?the American mind.?

With which Kiernan shows his lovely ability to lump 300 million people into a single slop bucket. Lovely high-minded behavior. Brilliant social satire. Deep-thinking analysis at its very best. Openness, generosity, insight, cleverness. So much insight in three little lines that I am truly beside myself in awe.


John Isbell 12.07.03 at 1:49 pm

The road from Geneva to Berlin. There are so many options left to try out. For instance, we could bulldoze village orchards.
Folks, our America will have its place in history. We’ll all be there implicitly, that’s how it works.
BTW I’m sorry but I cannot take seriously the arguments of anyone who uses the term “Saddamites.” I imagine you lose other readers too.


Dan the Man 12.07.03 at 2:22 pm

Shorter Doug: Kieran is objectively Pro-Saddam.


Doug 12.07.03 at 3:19 pm

Shorter Kieran: All Americans are evil.


Dan the Man 12.07.03 at 4:18 pm

Shorter Doug: Doug is a brain dead moronic idiot who doesn’t
know what he’s talking about.


nina 12.07.03 at 5:38 pm

Well, my response when I read that particular statement was, “And this makes them different from the Bush administration how?”

Is that narrower application acceptable to you, Doug? If not, please provide examples of the administration’s major initiatives not motivated chiefly by pride, saving face, or the desire to display force, physical or political.


Henry Farrell 12.07.03 at 5:54 pm

Guys, guys. Cool it a little, this ain’t LGF or Atrios’ comment-board.


Matt Weiner 12.07.03 at 10:47 pm

I thought that Kieran was making the point that Capt. Brown’s statement was racist, and that it seemed better applicable to Capt. Brown and to other official representatives of the U.S. than to Arabs, based on the activities described. I certainly didn’t take it as a blanket condemnation of all Americans. After all, some of his best friends are… oh, never mind.


msg 12.07.03 at 11:11 pm

Saddam and Gomorrah, how convenient.
The difference between Iraq and South Central Los Angeles is… I forgot. Wait, there it is. Strategic interests. Whose strategy exactly isn’t ever made explicit.
Maybe we could put the whole of Mesopotamia in prison. Just build a wall all the way around it, and rename it. Add on as needed. Privatize it too.
Or maybe we should build one tiny little section of wall that loops back on itself, at some ceremonial spot of ecumenical significance, with about a yard and a half of lawn in the middle, and say everything outside of that is now a prison.
The whole world as locked-down penitentiary. Arrest everyone just in case. Security is paramount. Not to be confused with United Artists, or Sony.
Somewhat more seriously, the semantic confusion that facilitated that powder-puff outburst, the “nominative aggregate” versus the “individual member with distinct attributes” thing, that’s at the heart of a lot of the logical collapse of current moral systems hmm? Both ways. Cowards hide in the group as they act against its best interest, concealing their independent culpability behind the group history, and zealots ignore the individuals within and attack the group in retaliation for the actions of a minority.
So Wolfowitz and Rove are Americans, US style, and act in the name of America, and some backpacking neo-hippie gets spit on in the souk, for having an Oklahoman accent.
There are of course far worse examples, saturated in violence and fear, occurring daily.
Nicht bin ein cowboy, dude.


Doug 12.08.03 at 8:28 am

Nina, indeed it does make a difference. Matt W., I can see that interpretation as well. Though I don’t think a good way of condemning a bigoted point of view is to make another sweeping, unsupportable generalization. Certainly not in a medium where the tone of voice is unknowable.


Dan Hardie 12.08.03 at 10:34 am

I’m Doug and I’m going to get awfully cross about a flippant remark on a blog comments thread. Because- get some perspective here, guys- that’s the real issue, not trivia like soldiers from my country bulldozing civilian houses. Gee, I’m not even gonna mention minor stuff like that.


rea 12.08.03 at 1:38 pm

We’re bringing democracy to Iraq, and we’ll shoot any Iraqi who disagrees . . . compulsory freedom.

Look, I don’t ask for much–just a foreign policy that isn’t an oxymoron. Is that too much to ask?


Darin 12.08.03 at 2:36 pm

Personally, I much prefer democratic change by UN committee.

I know the Iraqis were quite grateful to the scores of academics who were were equally outraged by the tyrannical regime that ruled for the past 30 years. I know I enjoyed reading the pages and pages dedicated to ending the Hussain regime. Almost as much as I now enjoy reading the paragraphs of outrage they write about the plight of those living under theocratic tyranny in Iran. Or those who live under a brutal dictatorship in North Korea. Oh wait, perhaps they are just created in the imagination of the evil moron Bush?

Its quite tragic that the barbaric American forces had to go and derail the previously virtuous and peaceful path to freedom in Iraq.

I wonder what sort of commentary I would be reading if the US had not sat back and ignored Rwanda. I’m sure the same group of cynical self-admiring critics would be deriding the imperialist west and their love of force until they were blue in the face.


DocG 12.08.03 at 3:03 pm

Ok, Darin, glad to hear you’re so well versed in “academics.” Would that be journals like _Foreign_Affairs_, or perhaps something more like cultural critiques to be found in _Modern_Language_Quarterly_? Just which “Academics” are you referring to? Political Science professors, or maybe just people with higher IQs than the average house pet?
We’re dying to hear more of your priceless insight, please share.



Darin 12.08.03 at 4:11 pm

You can define “academics” any way you choose. Is it really critical to my point? How about “a member of an institution of higher learning.”

The fact is that volume of criticism and anger coming out of the intellectual classes that is aimed toward the Bush administration’s policies pales in comparison to the outrage that was aimed toward Hussain, or toward the horrible dictatorship in North Korea, or the tragedy in Rwanda for that matter. I say that in the aggregate sense. Obviously there are those who have been consistent throughout. In my experience, however, they have been in the minority.

Yes, a broad generalization. But it was also made in the context of a brief post on a message board. I’m sorry if my failure to spend a paragraph to define my terms somehow mislead you.


John Isbell 12.08.03 at 4:43 pm

Darin, here is a very simple multiple choice for you:
1. I endorse the Geneva Conventions the US signed.
2. I do not endorse the Geneva Conventions the US signed.
Go ahead and pick either one. Take as long as you want. I pick 1.


Darin 12.08.03 at 5:13 pm

Of course I endorse the Geneva Conventions. And of course there are valid grounds for criticizing some tactics of the military in Iraq. I think all involved hope such measures are only temporary in nature. All I ask is that it is put in perspective.

What is the alternative? It is a tragically complex situation in which many of the policy choices are ones that chose between two less-than-ideal options.

There are many dying for the hope of an Iraqi democracy one day. All I ask is that we remember that before we come to make such moral judgments against them. I think reducing what is happening in Iraq to comments like “We’re bringing democracy to Iraq, and we’ll shoot any Iraqi who disagrees . . . compulsory freedom” is both dangerous and simple-minded. Ultimately, I believe it undermines any case for humanitarian intervention in the future.


Dan Simon 12.09.03 at 4:40 am

See here for my response.


SHAHROKH 01.15.04 at 9:03 pm

irane I am

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