Old Ho's Last Laugh

Back in the 1960's, there was an episode when Lyndon Johnson suggested offering North Vietnam a large dose of western-style incentive, as a deal to secure the peace. Cash and know-how to build hydroelectic power reservoirs in Vietnam, thinking it would transform the region into Tennessee-on-the-Mekong.

"Ol' Ho just can't turn that down!" Johnson is reported to have gleefully proclaimed, before the plan was rejected by the Vietnamese.

I have thought often of this story whenever I heard politicians talking about Iraqis' supposed willingness to turn themselves into happily westernized "free" consumers as a result of the coming (now current, and stalled) invasion. That this sentiment is repeated without question by CNN is no surprise — was Ted Turner who had similarly sappy (though similiarly self-serving) ideas about world-peace-through-global-TV-networks only a few short years ago (as if feeding folks in Yemen and Somalia the same re-runs of Gilligan's Island as those beamed to hapless American children would somehow make the human condition more bearable).

For a moment there in Afghanistan, I actually thought there was a chance that the US would "get it" — that achieving military objectives wouldn't change the region's inherent core of Pashtun-Wali beliefs, and that it was best to let people follow their own courses, albeit in some way that would be harmless to the US, while realizing that it would never be the US. Forget that, I guess.

There has been a huge apparent ignorance of the underlying al-Tikriti foundation of the Ba'ath Party government, a foundation that goes back to well before Saddam unambiguously took the helm in 1979. Surely the State Department and Pentagon had plenty of people who must have had some clue as to the social order of which Saddam was merely a symptom. And that someone could have done the math: if the rebelling Iraqis of 1991 were erased en masse, then who was left behind to inherit Basra? And more, have they forgotten how the country of Iraq itself was created as the result of a 1920 fatwa that unified both Sunnis and Shias, declaring it against Koranic law for muslims to be ruled by infidels? In particular, the British, who only three years ealier had promised the Iraqi that they [the Brits] were there as "liberators"?

Saddam is an intolerable beast, to be sure. But the planners in Washington and Whitehall who replaced thinking with wishes had best be prepared for a formidable backlash from the families of the soldiers whose lives have been so capriciously threatened and lost by those planners' hubris.

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