Tuesday, May 25, 2004

According to David Brooks, if we continue screwing up everything we're supposedly trying to do in Iraq, Iraqis (and others in the non-Western world) won't be angry at the screw-up -- they'll be angry at freedom itself.

Apparently -- if I read Brooks correctly -- Iraqis and other non-Westerners have some sort of Oliver Sacks-style brain defect that makes them incapable of grasping such notions as "freedom," "self-government," "civility," and "the rule of law." They've never heard of these things, they can't imagine them, and they think what Iraq has experienced in the past year is the embodiment of them. So if we give up now, Iraqis will think, Hey -- that was freedom? That sucked! Freedom really sucks! No one on earth should ever have to live in freedom! Death to all believers in freedom! And this aphasia is apparently shared by everyone on the planet, or at least by all non-Westerners.

You think I'm exaggerating? If so, it's not by much. Here's Brooks:

...let's face it, we don't know whether all people really do want to live in freedom. We don't know whether Iraqis have any notion of what democratic citizenship really means. We don't know whether they hear words like freedom, liberty and pluralism as deadly insults to the way of life they hold dear. We don't know who our enemies are. Are they the small minority of Baathists and jihadists, or is there a little bit of Moktada al-Sadr in every Iraqi's breast?

...if this gamble fails, it won't be only the competence of our officials that will be called into question -- it will be the American creed itself. Since before the nation's founding, Americans have thought of themselves as the great democratic champions of the globe.

If this gamble fails to come off, then that mission will seem, to many, false. Perhaps democracy and freedom are not really universal values, some will say. Perhaps they are just the outgrowths of a specific culture. People on the left and right will race to withdraw from the world. It will become difficult to take on the tyrants who will menace the world.

What do you think? You think it's really true that Iraqis and other non-Westerners can't separate freedom from the Bush administration's actions in the name of freedom? Or do you think it's David Brooks who can't make the distinction?

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