President Bush gave some general indication yesterday in his press conference that the Iraqis are working toward self-government, but he should be more specific. For example, what is being taught in Iraqi schools and colleges that might help us see that they are absorbing the lessons of liberal democracy? If this is going to be a long war, shouldn’t we take care that children and young people are learning the proper lessons and won’t be tempted to turn to violence? And the president says that the Iraqis want self-government. What are some examples of local efforts that are succeeding, specifically–actions, decisions, results.
I say this because the president repeated yesterday that liberty will win out over “hate” in Iraq, once again invoking universal ideals. I’m not sure “hate” is exactly our enemy there, but it is not the longing for liberty in every individual that serves as the foundation of liberal democracy, but the realization that one’s own freedom depends on recognizing the rights of others to it as well. And that in turn requires a degree of trust, like-mindedness, and some degree of similar cultural foundation. That’s why Federalist 2 gives thanks to Providence who gave “this one connected country to one united people–a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsel, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established their general liberty and independence.” The people uphold the ideals, not the other way around. It certainly wasn’t edifying to hear in a documentary on PBS last night funded by the National Endowment for the Arts that the Iraqi Kurds hate the Arabs and consider them terrorists. And that was not the only disturbing thing in the film.
The Administration’s comparisons with our own historical struggles to build democracy have also been misguided, as if America at any point resembled present day Iraq or treated women as they are treated in Islam. (And, on the other hand, would our early republic have flourished if it had faced daily horrific violence?) And then comparisons between our efforts in Iraq and the American occupation of Japan and Germany just left many of us astonished out of all measure, because of course those countries were completely pacified before the rebuilding began. I think these things have contributed to many Americans who still have some knowledge of history losing confidence in this effort. They feel the Administration is out of touch with history and reality. The Administration’s intentions are laudable, but that’s not enough. Why not give frequent Oval Office talks and explain things more and give more of a picture of what’s going on so that the American people can feel part of the mission?