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June 04, 2004

Giving Them the Choice

Damn Andrew Sullivan for making me link him.

Some time ago, I wrote, with typically self-indulgent wordiness, that we had to instill in the Iraqis a sense of responsibility for their own fates by giving them greater power to shape their own futures. For good or for ill:

First, the Iraqis would understand that their words and demands have consequences, and that they really ought to be quite careful about choosing them. They would be forced to transition from the irresponsible politics of powerlessness -- ranting, raving, always blaming one's troubles on some outside force -- to the more responsible politics of actual power.

Second, it would convince them that we really are quite serious about handing their country back to them, and so they needn't be so conspiratorially-minded and cynical about that. They could stop endlessly agitating for us to leave, because they'd be reassured that on the day they really want us to leave, we will.

Third, it would focus their mind on realistic decisionmaking. They can blame everything on America right now, because they don't feel ownership over the policies America executes. It's someone else's problem; like John Kerry, they can just sit back and carp about whatever we do, without offering a real alternative plan for action.

Right now Iraqis seem to want us to both provide good security while simultaneously not fighting the terrorists destroying that security. Were they to take ownership of the problem, and to understand that they are responsible for proposing a plan of action, they might begin to realize they can't have both at once, and must, yes, actually choose or at least prioritize. Whichever way they choose, they can't keep blaming America for the choice.

Sullivan reprints a letter from a Marine reading thus:

As far as Falluja goes, we have not been allowed to get back in there with any real numbers yet. Initially, it was confounding.

However, a very interesting dynamic has developed.

Since we have stayed out of Falluja and focused elsewhere, the mujahadeen have had their run of the town. As they have had no one to fight, they have turned their criminal instincts on the citizens.

The clerics who once were whipping these idiots into a suicidal frenzy are now having to issue Fatwas (holy decrees) admonishing the muj for extortion, rape, murder and kidnapping. It is unfortunate for the "innocent people" of Falluja but the mujahadeen have betrayed themselves as the thugs that they are by brutalizing the civilians. There are, in fact, reports of rape, etc from inside the town.

While the muj are thugging away inside the town, we are about 1/2 mile away paying claims, entering into dialogue and contracting jobs. The citizens come outside the city for work and money and are treated like human beings. They go back inside and enter a lawless hell.

In short, the muj have done more to show the people what hypocrites they are in a few short weeks than we could have hoped for in a year. The result is more and more targetable intelligence. If we are given the green light, we can really go to town on these guys (no pun intended). However, as much as we would like to do just that, the optimal solution is to empower the Iraqis to take care of it themselves. That is precisely what we are doing.

I think this jibes with a point I made: It is a liberal impulse to attempt to protect people from their own bad decisions by taking decisions out of their hands and forcing them to make the "right" decisions. It is a conservative impulse to say, "Do what you want, but don't expect much help if you screw things up for yourselves."

Such laissez-faire thinking wouldn't seem to apply to a war/occupation situation, but sure enough, the basic rules of human responsibility and the laws of unintended consequences continue operating, even in Fallujah.

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posted by Ace at 09:19 PM

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