Monday, May 19, 2008

Friends Like These

Prolonged military occupations breed resentment and hostility amongst the occupied population. That is not a particularly piercing insight, but then as Fred Kaplan observed, the Bush administration "has violated so many precepts of International Relations 101 that clichés take on the air of wisdom." Speaking of which:

Monday, Iraq's largest Sunni Arab party said it rejected an apology made by the U.S. military after an American sniper used a Quran for target practice. The unidentified soldier was disciplined and removed from Iraq, the military said Sunday.

The Iraqi Islamic Party called the shooting of Islam's holy book a "flagrant assault on Muslim sacraments" and that the "apology alone" was not enough. It said the U.S. military should impose the "severest punishment" on the soldier to ensure others do not repeat his act.

The Quran, with 14 bullet holes and graffiti marked on its paged, was found on May 11 by Iraqis near a former base outside the town of Radwaniyah, west of Baghdad.

On Saturday, the top U.S. commander held a formal ceremony apologizing to Radwaniyah's Sunni tribal leaders, vowing the act would not be repeated.

Paul Bremer (unintentionally confirming his inability to grasp basic human nature and its political ramifications) recently claimed that using the term "occupation" to describe the US presence in Iraq was "in many ways more important" in terms of generating opposition to the US presence than the many inevitable, if regrettable, provocations of the occupying army/political authority. The belief that good marketing can overcome the facts on the ground is a particular affliction of the Bush administration, and its contingent of Mayberry Machiavellis.

However, as Juan Cole points out while commenting on the Koran desecration incident mentioned above, the marketing message isn't even that good - or at least, there are key elements that work against each other:

The incident crystallizes the contradiction in Bush administration policy, between promoting Islamophobia among Americans while attempting to cultivate Muslim allies abroad.

Fareed Zakaria neatly summarized this conundrum:

This is the [Republican] party's dilemma -- it wishes to spread liberty to people whom it doesn't really like.

The Boys with the Arab Trap as I termed it. Even Rich Lowry can see the cracks in the facade:

Bush’s emphasis on the inherent hunger for freedom is powerful. It clothes his foreign policy in an undeniable idealism. It puts his liberal opponents in a tight spot, because it is awkward for them to object to the kind of sweeping universalism they have always embraced. It might be simplistic, but that is often an advantage in political communication.

The problem with Bush’s freedom rhetoric is that it appears to not be true.

That is a problem, isn't it.

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