Saturday, June 14, 2014

Milestones in shamelessness

David Brooks on the Tellyvision (via Crooks & Liars):
I do think we somehow have to get involved. As the panel said, it has to be political. I think they do have to commit to a — the Iraqi constitution is a regional constitution. It’s a federal constitution which devolves a lot of power. That didn’t happen in practice. Maliki centralized everything. And that was obviously a poisonous and terrible decision.
And there you have it, ladies and gents: the real problem in Iraq is that Maliki turned out to be one of those liberals.

Wonder if he also failed to discourage Iraqi teenagers from having babies before they got married. Or failed to get a handle on runaway government deficits.*

Something tells me this is not really the problem. The Iraqi government is so "federal" (in the usual conservative sense of "anti-federal") in some respects that a major part of it, Kurdistan, has its own independent revenue sources, welfare system (much more generous than the Maliki government's), military defense, and foreign policy. In the Shi'ite center and south and Sunni north (ethnic segregation of the country, ongoing since the 2003 invasion, is just about complete now), liberal government in the sense of providing social services and economic growth (and electricity!) is entirely absent, the government's only real welfare program being the handing out of government jobs to Shi'ites while the Sunnis and Kurds must fend for themselves; in that sense Maliki has developed into a regional governor himself, taking responsibility only for the Shi'ite population (he finally started promising to give jobs to Sunnis last January, but he hasn't managed to follow through, and it certainly looks like it's too late now). In terms of security, western Iraq was being governed less like a federal region than a foreign colony, with policing provided by an uneasy collaboration between metropolitan Shi'ite forces and local tribal councils (with lots of state violence and arbitrary arrests)—which is why it's been so easy for ISIS to conquer the territory. Maliki has been "centralizing" in the sense of trying to build a monopoly on power for corruption and violence in the prime minister's office, but not in the way Brooks is trying to make you think, that it's somehow like Obamacare.

Of course Brooks isn't interested in these petty bureaucratic details. He's got a higher aim in mind, concealing his prior knowledge of whatever it was happened in Iraq 10 or 12 years ago.

*Not really, if you're interested. Spending seems to be under control.

Although they say there'll be a big budget problem if they lose revenue from the Kurdistan oil fields, obvs., so the jury's kind of out on that one.

They still can't provide adequate electricity, but it seems you get more through power plants concentrated in the Shi'a areas; one reason the insurgents captured Mosul, which has a very big output. Healthcare is in terrible shape, and it's impossible to find any reliable information on the education system but it appears unable to climb out of deep decline. A World Food Programme initiative to provide supplementary nutrition to schoolchildren seems to operate only in Shi'ite areas, which is a mixed blessing, since it poisoned 600,000 kids last January.

Oh, and trends in teen birthrates (to women ages 15-19) by country. Data from World Bank.

country name 1983 1993 2003 2013
Afghanistan 168 169 144 87
Egypt 105 72 52 43
France 19 11 11 6
Iran 135 70 33 32
Iraq 82 67 68 69
Jordan 6l 47 32 26
Libya 14 8 4 3
Portugal 36 22 15 13
Saudi Arabia 111 54 19 10
United States 52 58 42 31

Not sure you can tell how Oakeshottian a country is from these numbers. Interesting, though, how Iran and the US seem to converge across the decades; are we getting more like them or are they getting more like us?

Poster design.

Speaking of Iraq and shamelessness, the historian Phebe Marr did an NPR interview this morning about ISIS and the Sunni-Shi'a "rift" spending almost four full minutes in which she managed to mention the United States war in Iraq only once, in weirdly veiled terms (my transcription):
We and the Iraqis killed [ISIS's] leader and that is a group that we—subdued when we were there
When we were there? And what were we—doing, Phebe, when we were there, hmm?

Well, Marr was being a Senior Fellow at the Institute of National Strategic Studies in the National Defense University, from which august seat, according to her potted biography,
she has advised high-level officials, often testifies before U.S. Senate and House committees, and frequently appears on network TV as a commentator on Iraq.
And in July 2005 she was being thrilled, according to the AP's Sally Buzbee in an article that appeared July 25 in the Star-News of Wilmington, North Carolina:

You'd think she'd manage to have a clearer recollection of a war she actually visited, wouldn't you?

Here are the first two and two-thirds paragraphs of Phebe Marr's review, in Foreign Affairs July-August 2005, of Larry Diamond's Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq. I just want it noted how she devotes a lot of prose to describing "three fundamental changes" in Iraq since January 2003 without saying a word to suggest that the US might have had anything to do with them until very indirectly acknowledging, at the very end of the passage, that we seemed at the time of writing to be occupying the country. And she doesn't mention at all how such a condition came into existence, either. It's a remarkable performance.
In two years, Iraq has gone from being a rogue state to being an ailing, if not failing, one. In January 2003, Saddam Hussein's totalitarian dictatorship ruled over most of the country with an iron fist, a mammoth intelligence system, and a bloated 400,000-strong army. Power and resources were concentrated in the hands of Saddam and his lackeys in Baghdad, supported by the Sunni heartland in the center of the country. With its paranoid nationalist ideology, Iraq was a constant threat to its neighbors.
Since then, at least three fundamental changes have occurred. The first has been the collapse of both the government and its support base. Thanks to the insurgency and the elimination of the Baath Party and Saddam's military, Iraq's center of gravity has shifted away from Baghdad and toward the provinces. Second, Iraq is now experiencing real politics -- a revolutionary development for the region. The newly elected assembly and the cabinet of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari are mediating conflicts between political parties and their constituencies through bargaining and tradeoffs rather than intimidation and violence. Third, the country's politics are no longer driven by nationalism and the interests of a middle class of state functionaries, but rather are guided by cultural identities based on ethnic and sectarian blocs. The election of January 30, 2005, confirmed the displacement of the former Sunni ruling class and the emergence of both a dominant Shiite majority and a strong Kurdish minority, with profound consequences for the country's domestic and foreign policies.
These disruptions are unlikely to be settled easily anytime soon. Given the excruciating compromises Iraq's transition to democracy requires, the political process in Baghdad is proceeding about as well as could be expected. But the insurgency, focused mainly on the capital and its environs, is sapping energy, isolating the country's center from the provinces and Iraq from the outside world, and complicating economic revival. Not surprisingly, the hope and optimism that once buoyed believers in the U.S. occupation have given way to disappointment and finger-pointing.  
Driftglass is onto something: they're trying to modify our memories, I think.

Obliviate! Kenneth Branagh as Gilderoy Lockhart.

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