Following the victory-but-fiasco that the British eked out in the Boer War of 1899-1902, Rudyard Kipling wrote:
Let us admit it fairly, as a business people should,
We have had no end of a lesson: it will do us no end of good.
Now, I am not going to present an argument that Iraq is America’s Boer War. I don’t believe it is, even in potential. Not that there aren’t some resemblances, mainly centered around the verb “to underestimate”; but we are not, except in the fevered imaginations of some of the more extreme Bush-haters, in the empire-building business. The “good” that Kipling looked forward to was a better and stronger British Empire (“We have had an Imperial lesson; it may make us an Empire yet!”)
That’s not us. It’s certainly not me–I persist in regarding the whole thing as a punitive expedition against a major nuisance and probable future threat. It’s not the more “neocon” of us neocons, either, though. The most anyone on the pro-war side hopes for is a modern, constitutional, independent nation in Iraq. I personally think that’s a stretch; but it’s not an ignoble idea, would actually be great for the whole world if it came to pass, and it certainly isn’t imperialist.
I do, though, want to try to peer forward to see what lessons the Iraq war might end up teaching us. A few days ago I posted a column about how our domestic obsessions with “diversity” and “multiculturalism” influence the conduct of our foreign policy, and of this war. Here I’m going to try to look at the topic from the other side: Will the war change our national culture? Will it, in particular, hasten the crack-up of the multicultural ideology?
Let’s take a close look at that ideology, through the eyes of a passionate adherent. Here was George W. Bush addressing the press on Friday, on the occasion of a visit by Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin:
There’s a lot of people in the world who don’t believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren’t necessarily–are a different color than white can self-govern. And the Prime Minister–I don’t want to put words in his mouth–but I think he shares that great sense of optimism and possibility…
I bet he does. If he doesn’t, he’s in trouble, for multiculturalism is official state dogma in Canada just as much as it is here, and the prime minister would be run out of public life as a “hate-filled” heretic, with a howling pack of ideological enforcers close on his heels, if he showed signs of not believing in it.
Does our own president believe in it? I feel sure that he does. He is a sincere man, and also a very religious one, in the apologetic, guilt-addled, world-embracing style of upper-class white American Christianity. Further, I don’t think he has the kind of mind that responds critically to social dogmas. If they appeal to his emotions, and are widely believed, or at least repeated, by the people he moves amongst, he will incorporate them into his worldview, and from then on will defend them with the iron-willed certitude that is, of all his character traits, the one most useful to our nation in this time of war. Everything George W. Bush has said and done indicates that on matters of race, ethnicity, “diversity,” and multiculturalism, he is as liberal as it is possible to be.
Just look at his words up there above, for example. What is the president actually saying? What, for instance, is all that stuff about skin color? What does skin color have to do with the matter of democracy in Iraq? I have blood relatives in England who are darker-skinned than Saddam Hussein. Practically the entire editorial staff of National Review is darker-skinned than Muqtada al-Sadr. And how did we suddenly segue from “people whose skin color may not be the same as ours” (Whose? Yours? Condi’s?) to “people who practice the Muslim faith,” then back again in the very next sentence to “people whose skins…are a different color than white”?
The reason for all the confusion is that the president is talking–or rather, like a good multiculturalist, tying himself in knots by trying desperately not to talk–about race. One of the central tenets of the multiculturalist dogma is that there is no such thing as race. Populations of different ancestry may differ from each other in superficial and easily visible ways–that is why it is O.K., just about, to mention “skin color”–but in no other ways at all. So what the president is asserting is, if you translate it out of multiculturalist code, something like this:
While people from various regions of the world might differ in appearance, they do not differ innately in psychology or characteristic patterns of behavior. There is, therefore, no reason why any nation, anywhere, should not have constitutional government under representative democracy. To suggest otherwise is racist.
Now I, personally, have that deplorable cast of mind that, when it hears someone say that such and such a thing is racist, reacts instinctively with the thought: “Racist, schmacist: is it t-r-u-e?”
Well, is it? Are there any grounds for believing that the Arabs of Iraq are innately, genetically, incapable of practicing rational government, based upon the consent of the governed?
Let’s take a look. There is, of course–of course!–no such thing as race, but there is definitely such a thing as population genetics. I have a huge fat tome on the subject right here on my desk: the 1994 edition of Cavalli-Sforza, Menozzi and Piazza’s 1,088-page, backpack-sized History and Geography of Human Genes, the fruit of decades of research into the frequencies of numerous human genes in different parts of the world. Iraqi Arabs are covered in Section 4.15, “Genetics of West Asia.” Here we read that Iraqi Arabs are closest in genetic composition to the Kurds. The next closest populations genetically are Turks and Jordanian Arabs.
Democracy-wise, this is a mixed bag. The Turks have a pretty good democracy going–not up to Jeffersonian standards, perhaps, but they’d be popping champagne corks in the White House if Iraq ever got as democratic as Turkey. The Kurds of liberated Iraq have a way to go, but they seem to be on the road and moving fast. Cavalli-Sforza et al. don’t make it clear whether “Jordanian Arab” includes the Palestinians, so it’s hard to draw much of a conclusion there; but if the kingdom of Jordan is not exactly Switzerland, it’s not North Korea, either. (Neither, let it be noted, since we are talking about the intersection of genetics and political science, is South Korea…)
It does not, therefore, look as if race–oops, sorry!, I meant population genetics–has anything to do with it. So, then, the president is right, isn’t he? There is nothing in the biological make-up of the Iraqi Arabs that prohibits them from having a democracy, is there?
My guess is that there isn’t. Unfortunately, while biology is a much under-estimated part of human nature–an unmentionable one, in fact, to the strict multiculturalist–it is not the whole of it. The uncomfortable fact remains that of the 18** nations whose first language is Arabic, not one is a modern constitutional democracy. The further fact remains that while President Bush may, and probably does, believe that constitutional democracy is priority No. 1 for the Arabs, a great deal of circumstantial evidence suggest that for many in that part of the world, priority No. 1 is the humiliation and murder of their enemies, most especially the hated Jews, with constitutional democracy round about priority No. 853.
So what is it? Why can’t Arabs do what English and Irish, French and German, Japanese and Taiwanese, Barbadians and Trinidadians have done? Is it the folkways–cousin marriage, the subjugation of women, what David Pryce-Jones calls the “closed circle” of money-favoring and power-challenging, shame and honor? Is it perhaps even, as Goitein suggested, something to do with the language itself?
Whatever the barrier is, it makes it awfully difficult for the Arabs to take up a civilized form of government. And there we come to the lesson. Either the Iraqis can break through that barrier, or they can’t. If they can, we are of course home and dry, and George W. Bush enters the rolls of history as a world-transforming president.
If they can’t, though, then the American people are going to take a lesson from it. The lesson they take will be: “These people are fundamentally different from us. They don’t care about the things we care about–liberty, law, constitutionalism, rational economics–and can’t be persuaded to. They are different from us in some permanent, unfathomable, intractable way.”
If large numbers of Americans come away from the Iraq experience thinking that, then the multicultural ideology–which teaches that the cultures of the world differ only superficially, in things like cuisine and “skin color,” but in no ways that have anything to do with behavior, either individual or collective–will be in very serious trouble. So will be the nation’s most ardent enthusiast for that ideology, George W. Bush.
** Everyone gets a different count here. I make it 18, but I may have missed a couple: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen.