Sunday, April 11, 2004

Nasty, Brutish and...Let's Talk

In writing on the current situation in Iraq – in which he makes the dubious, but very New York Times -like, claim that “the U.S. operation in Iraq is hanging by a thread” – Tom Friedman evokes Thomas Hobbes in his Sunday op-ed, and then goes on to say that what that situation requires is more talking!

I’m not making this up.

The kind of talking Friedman is talking about is the kind of talking that people in the United Nations, the Arabs states and the various Iraqi factions have to do in order to all get on the same page and work together to build and defend a liberal, democratic Iraq.

I’m not making this up.

A couple of days ago Andrew Sullivan evoked Hobbes in reference to contemporary Iraq, but unlike Friedman, Sullivan gives an indication that he’s actually read Hobbes. Money quote (as Sullivan would say): “The entire enterprise of attempting to bring some kind of normalcy to Iraq can only be accomplished if the coalition forces have a monopoly of violence.”

Actually, from a Hobbesian perspective, Sullivan is redundant – normalcy, or social stability, is in fact what you have when a sovereign, e.g., the coalition forces, has an effective monopoly on violence in a society. Furthermore, none of the fruits of social stability, e.g., freedom, commerce, etc., are remotely possible until social stability, or normalcy, is achieved.

Friedman’s concern is that the coalition has a “legitimacy deficit” because coalition forces are killing “rebellious Iraqi young men and clerics,” and that only if other Arabs are among those killing the rebellious young Iraqis and their religious leaders will the moderate majority of Iraqis stand up and side with the coalition.

If you don’t write for the New York Times however, you probably don’t assume that Iraqi moderates think and behave like creatures never observed anywhere else on the face of the earth. In fact, if you don’t write for the New York Times, and even if you’ve never read Hobbes, you probably think about people you’ve never met, as Hobbes did, by starting with the assumption that the hopes and concerns that animate their lives are not too dissimilar from your own.

There are obviously people in Iraq motivated by passions with which the average Innocents Abroad reader is constitutionally incapable of empathizing. But these are not the moderates. The moderates are the ones keeping their heads down in places like Falluja, trying to protect their families and survive as they best know how. I suspect that this ‘silent majority’ would be a lot happier if the coalition gained a monopoly on violence in Iraq, than if the factional violence is drawn out as the coalition tries to build a bigger tent – a tent made larger to accommodate some who have the most to fear from a free Iraq (it could take a while to build that tent).

The situation in parts of Iraq is right now nasty and brutish, and until the lives of those instigating the violence are made very short, it will remain so.


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