Subscribe in a reader

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

Dennis (interrupting): Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government! Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony!--"Monty Python and the Holy Grail"

Mr. Bush has presented his plan to change Iraq tout de suite into a thriving democracy, and his plan goes something like this: "Remember all that stuff that hasn't worked for the past 18 months? Well, we're going to try some more of that. And isn't that United Nations that I declared irrelevant all those months ago really a quite charming institution?" We have implanted a government of our choosing. (Is it a puppet government if no one sees your lips moving?) This government was granted sovereignty. (Can a nation have a sovereign government while occupied? Does a hostage have freedom when he has a gun at his head?)

Unfortunately, Mr. Bush and those who surround him have the strange notion that freedom is something that can be presented as a gift, like a pen-and-pencil set or a mountain bike. Like Monty Python's conception of King Arthur, the current administration has no notion that "power derives from a mandate from the masses"; they think they are the power itself.

Ever since the dreadful events of September 11, 2001, we have been witness to an administration that sees itself as lord of the manor and that is answerable to none, especially not to the grubby lot that they govern. In his speech following the attacks, many--myself among them--were hoping that he would call us--the people--to sacrifice some of our comforts and to serve on the Home Front in the war that inevitably lay before us. Instead, we were told to go shopping. "Don't worry," he said. "We'll take care of it. Don't you worry your pretty little heads one bit." And in that moment I understood that Mr. Bush did not see himself as the employee of the people, but as our ruler.

Throughout their stewardship in this dangerous time, this administration has shown itself to be composed of nothing but a bunch of overgrown children who see world politics as a big game of Stratego or, on a good day, Risk. Not understanding from whence their power derives, they wield it clumsily, like a four-year-old put in charge of a ballpeen hammer. And now they think that they can say a few magic words and constitute a legitimate government in Iraq. Can such a government--one formed at the point of a gun and that is dependent on an occupying force for its existence--succeed?

Again, I am reminded of the peasant Dennis in Holy Grail: 'Oh, but if I went 'round sayin' I was Emperor, just because some moistened bint lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!" Mr. Bush's "farcical aquatic ceremony," held just before the magical date of June 30th, was meaningless since the government that was installed did not derive its power from the mass of the Iraqi people. Hence, there is an insurgency, one rooted not in the wild theories of terrorists or the stubbornness of a few of Saddam's henchmen. It is an insurgency rooted in the desire of the Iraqi people to decide their own fate on their own terms and to not blindly accept a fate presented to them like a plate of cold cuts.

What we refuse to understand in the current situation is that, regardless of how well intentioned we are, we are the problem. The best way to defuse the insurgency is to put a plan in place to remove our troops as quickly and efficiently as possible. As our presence diminishes, so will the insurgency. There will be a risk of a civil war, but not a certainty of one.

Even if the January elections do come off, the result may not be what Messrs Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz expect. The people chosen in the election may decide to do as they damn well please and not as Mr Bush would have them. To me, if the Iraqi people insist on government of a theocratic nature, that is their business. If the Iraqi people wish to form a government that is split along sectarian and ethnic lines, that is their business as well. I doubt that Mr Bush would be quite so understanding.

A government imposed, regardless of the sentiments of those doing the imposing, can never rise above the level of tyranny. Since its power derives from an outside source, it can never be legitimate. Since it cannot stand on its own, it can never be sovereign. And that is why, day-in and day-out, the Iraqi people also quote Dennis and say, "Help! Help! I'm being repressed!"

No comments: