Thursday, May 01, 2003

Oxblog's David Adesnik, bless his idealistic heart, has proposed a touchingly optimistic response to the recent shootouts between American soldiers and Iraqi gunmen in Fallujah that have left at least 17 Iraqis dead. Adesnik's hope: "what I would really like to see is a thorough investigation of the shooting at Fallujah....What the US military needs to do is establish a relationship with the Iraqi public based on total candor.... the interest of Iraq and the United States are similar enough to make honesty work."

Now, as I've pointed out before, commissions of inquiry tend to have little credibility even in Western democracies with long histories of accountable, reasonably trustworthy government institutions. In a country like Iraq, where the ruling regime has been casually mendacious for decades, and the regional culture is rife with the most absurd conspiracy theorizing, any expectation that an American commission of inquiry will be believed by anyone not already predisposed to do so is simply naive.

How, then, should the US deal with such incidents? Well, Slate's David Plotz is no rabid hawk--one of his suggestions for the American occupiers is to teach the Iraqis to sue each other--but he nevertheless advocates that US troops "enforce the occupation ruthlessly....Soldiers can't simply mill about and eyeball girls. They need to bully, coerce, and prod.....American soldiers should relentlessly eliminate any challenge to security or to their authority....This ruthlessness sounds, well, ruthless. It needs to be."

Plotz is concerned with opportunistic thugs looking to take advantage of a power vacuum to establish their own local--or national--dictatorial rule. That's certainly a risk, but it seems to me that even if no such rogue leadership emerges, differences among Iraqis will inevitably cause many of them to dislike Americans and try to oppose them. To the extent that they find violence effective in doing so, they will use it.

In that respect, it should be noted, Baghdad is no different from Berlin or Boston: if violence is rewarded rather than punished, it will increase. The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship, after all, is not that the former allows people to shoot at the authorities with impunity, but rather that it allows them to influence the government non-violently.

Of course, Americans will likely not have the stomach to maintain this sort of tough policing for long. (They can't even bear to to deploy it to protect themselves from criminals in their own cities, for pity's sake.) That's another good reason for getting the troops out as soon as possible. As long as they're there, though, they owe it to both themselves and the Iraqis they govern to use all necessary force to maintain order.

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