Monday, May 28, 2007


The question is occasionally asked whether there are any groups in Iraq that are really on our side. The left-over Baathists, local and imported Al Quaida, and radical Shiites obviously hate us, which leaves the non-Baathist secular Sunnis, who blame us for leaving them at the mercy of the Shia but are willing to put up with us for the time being, and the bulk of the Shia who also want us gone, though they differ among themselves as to timing. The exception is the Kurds, the sole and only faction in the country that is doing pretty well and not coincidentally the only Iraqis who aren’t under foreign occupation; but even their support has a hidden reservation: they know we’re very likely to betray them to the Turks, Syrians, and Iranians in the end. Meanwhile, other ethnic and religious minorities in the country—the Christians and Turks, for example—have already learned not to put their faith in princes (or presidents). One has to look long and hard for anybody who is really on our side, and even our erstwhile allies are allies from policy and for the time being.

Our universal unpopularity in Iraq is not the most salient strategic fact, however. In principle, bribery and favoritism could win the hearts and minds of some local faction. Thing is, it’s pretty hard to figure out just what Iraqi group we would want on our side. There just aren’t any candidates for the role that was played, if only in our historical imagination, by Filipinos or Vietnamese mountain tribesmen. Groucho famously would not join any club that would be willing to have him as a member. How could we respect—or trust—any Iraqi who was so abject as to follow our lead with the dog-like loyalty demanded by the current administration? Bush demands gratitude. Oil isn’t enough. In fantasies, it may be agreeable to imagine someone who not only let’s you have your way with them but actively desires their own submission; but in the real world all that’s available are individuals who are willing to play out that script temporarily if the price is right. In Iraq, apparently, there aren’t even many of those left; and the rest of the actual Iraqis are too religious, too secular, too nationalistic, or too simply too self- respecting for the purposes of the current administration.

It isn’t just that they don’t like us. We don’t like them.