Saturday, January 6

:: The New Conservative Message on Iraq

The Sunday New York Times offers a tantalizing glimpse of what may be a new White House message strategy that attempts to reconcile the First Truth - the White House is always right - with the reality-based assertion that the Iraq basket is on a fast track to hell. Columnist David Brooks, always game to try the latest conservative Jedi Mind Trick on the NYTimes readership, put it thusly: "Iraq is the most xenophobic, sexist and reactionary society on earth." ["Closing of a Nation," New York Times, September 24, 2006.]

Brooks cites World Values Survey research on Iraq to back up his claim. The World Values Survey is indeed a treasure, so much so that I suspect every staff member is worth their own weight in gold. They are the go-to place for transparent comparative data about social attitudes around the world, and they put much of that data up on the web for researchers, the curious and the habitual procrastinor to peruse for free. There is no doubt in my mind that the figures from the World Values Survey that Brooks cites are accurate: for example, that 90% of Iraqi Arabs say they would be uncomfortable having a foreigner as a neighbor.

The real matter of interest is to what end Brooks presents this information. After all, the man who recently defended traditional gender stereotypes as hardwired in the brain (ergo natural, ergo good), concerned about Iraqi sexism? The man who thinks America is Number One in any and all circumstances, concerned about Iraqi xenophobia?

The answer is revealed in this statement: "... over the past 15 years, things have become much worse. It's impossible to tell how much of the trauma has been caused since the American invasion. We do know, however, that American policy makers were surprised to learn how religious Iraqi society has become during the 1990's. (Iraqi exiles had not prepared them for this.)"

Set aside, for the moment, the notion that we can't compare conditions before and after the invasion. Set aside, also, that Brooks uses religiosity as a euphemism for the aforementioned xenophobia, sexism and reactionary-ism (oops, I think the correct term is knee-jerk conservatism.) And set aside, lastly, that Brooks uses figures for Iraqi Arabs (rather that all Iraqis) to get more dramatic numbers.

The real message is that democracy in Iraq is failing because the Iraqis themselves are the most xenophobic, sexist and reactionary people on the planet. In other words, things are going wrong not because of anything we did, but because (1) the Iraqis are the most screwed up people in the world, and (2) the Iraqis didn't tell us how screwed up they are ahead of time. And they were like this long before we got there.

Its a morally and intellectually bankrupt argument which, among other things, breezes over the distinction between describing a condition and examining its causes, but no doubt some people - people who have the need to believe our leaders are always right, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary - will buy it. At least one person already has.

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