The Long View 2003-09-24: Whose Quagmire?

At the time, you could actually rely on the news to paint a rosy picture of Iraq. The fundamental problem, then as now, is that the English-language media have too much dependence on people they can talk to. Reporting on the Arab Spring had the same problem.  John brings up Vietnam. That is a pretty good example of the problem, but not in the way John meant.

Whose Quagmire?

President Bush's frostily received address to the UN General Assembly yesterday resembled nothing so much as a State of the Union Address to a hostile Congress. That was the kind of speech that Bill Clinton gave to the Gingrich Congress, and that Bush's own father gave in 1992: a small number of very specific legislative proposals, including one conspicuous measure for the benefit of children. The bulk of yesterday's address was about Iraq, more or less, but that part sounded like Bush's recent funding request to Congress. In both cases, he was asking for money to support the occupation and reconstruction. What chiefly struck me about yesterday's address was that the president asked for laws:

Today, some nations make it a crime to sexually abuse children abroad. Such conduct should be a crime in all nations.

The president's remarks and those of the other principal speakers were different in kind. Secretary General Annan, President Chirac of France, and President da Silva of Brazil, seemed most concerned with the structure and authority of the United Nations as an institution. The chief effect of the Terror War on such people, in fact, has been to increase enthusiasm for the reforms of the U.N. system recommended in Our Global Neighborhood. The strange thing about this development is that, though the Global Neighborhood reforms are supposed to facilitate global governance, the people who support them are singularly uninterested in actual governance. One is reminded of nothing so much as the parliament of Congo-Zaire after Mobutu fell, which spent its first session arguing about parliament members' salaries and perks.

There is a twain here: the desire for legitimate governance and the ability to govern. They will meet eventually, but not now.

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As for the situation in Iraq, as we approach five months since President Bush declared an end to major combat, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the media to maintain the quagmire story. It's a bad sign when you start quoting Ann Coulter, but she hit the nail on the head when she asked in a recent column, "Have you noticed that we started to lose only when the embedded reporters went home?" Maybe this is just an illusion created by listening to NPR regularly, but all those reports about the patience of Iraqi civilians wearing thin seem to have grown awfully formulaic. Iraqi patience must have been very thick to begin with, since apparently good polls show that the occupation is popular even in chaotic Baghdad.

Popularity is not the point, of course. Quite likely a majority of South Vietnamese did not want a Communist victory in 1975, but the US tired of the war of attrition anyway. There are two differences in Iraq. First, there is a quite clear strategy, and not particularly long-term one, for turning what is really a police problem over to a democratic Iraqi government. The recent attempts by the interim Governing Council to assert itself against Paul Bremer's administration are actually part of the program. Just as important, there is no state nearby waiting for the US to leave so it can invade. Neighboring states are more likely to be undermined by the new Iraq than the other way around.

Instapundit does a pretty good job of reporting the incremental good news, punctuated by disasters. Most intriguing of all are the reports, which began circulating last week, that Saddam Hussein may be close to capture or exile. Such an event could create a crisis for the liberal media and the foreign policy establishment, particularly if it shed light on the WMD question.

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No one should suppose that the liberal media, or the foreign policy establishment, or even Howard Dean want the US to lose in Iraq. What they do want is to "contain the damage." 911 and the quick military victories were a trauma to the worldview of progressives, an increasingly transnational group. Those events made the agenda that transnationalists had been promoting seem secondary, and their solutions to the world's problems fatuous. They would be perfectly happy if Iraq could just be bracketed as a "failed state" (which a UN administration might reasonably be expected to produce). They believe that the US intervention can eventually be classed with the small, unsuccessful interventions in Beirut in 1986 and in Somalia in 1992-93.

This is deeply delusional. A US failure in Iraq, which would probably entail return of a Baathist government, perhaps headed by Saddam Hussein himself, would mean the end of conventional military deterrence as an instrument of world order. That leaves nukes.

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Here is an update regarding on the progress of library science. When I was doing research for cataloging my library, I had gathered that libraries subscribed to a service that updated the Dewey Decimal System, but I had not quite taken on board the fact the system is a trade-marked product.

Imagine my innocence.

Now I see that the Online Computer Library Center is suing Manhattan's Library Hotel for arranging its rooms according to Dewey categories. The idea is that each room has decor and some books corresponding to the category subjects. The Center wants a fee, or at least an acknowledgement.

I hope they settle the suit. The concept appeals to me.

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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