In the tsunami of discussion that followed President Bush's surge speech,
it was evident that many professional opinion and policy makers have been
telling themselves that the intractable problems in Iraq are largely the
result of a lack of courage and resolve on the part of the Iraqi people.
As though Prime Minister Maliki and company were teens on a spending spree, congressman wagged their fingers and warned that the Iraqis who
have been dying by the tens of thousands do not have a blank check from
us, and that we cannot and will not continue to defend them from
themselves. In a highly critical response to President Bush's talk,
Senator Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, put this spin on his curveball:
"...we have given the Iraqis so much. We have deposed their dictator. We
dug him out of a hole in the ground and forced him to face the courts
of his own people. We've given the Iraqi people a chance to draft their
own constitution, hold their own free elections and establish their own
government. We Americans, and a few allies, have protected Iraqis when
no one else would...Now in the fourth year of this war, it is time for
the Iraqis to stand and defend their own nation...The Iraqis must
understand that they alone can lead their nation to freedom. They alone
must meet the challenges that lie ahead. And they must know that, every
time they call 911, we are not going to send 20,000 more American
This same subtext about the need for the Iraqis to pull themselves up by
the bootstraps was the chorus in almost all of the commentary last week.
Take it from Maureen Dowd who recently observed, "Many Bush officials and
lawmakers now talk about Iraqis with impatience, as though they are
deadbeat relatives who have got to stop putting the pinch on us for a
billion a week and try harder, in the immortal words of Rummy, "to pull up
Perhaps history does not matter. Perhaps the
blame-the-Iraqis-and-pat-ourselves-on-the-back gambit is the first move in
a declare-victory-and-leave strategy, but there can be no doubt that our
narratives about Iraq are tending towards the delusional.
To listen to our politicos, you would think that the majority of Iraqis
had beseeched us to come and overthrow their dictator, even if it meant
destroying the infrastructure and internal security of their nation.
The idea of taking responsibility is, of course, the god-term of American
moral rhetoric these days. So let's be clear and take responsibility for
the fact that even though we dubbed it "Operation Iraqi Freedom," our
campaign was driven by unadulterated self-interest.
As though it needed repeating, President Bush and his epigones were
convinced that Hussein either had or was about to obtain weapons of mass
destruction and, as the reasoning went, a pre-emptive strike was essential
to national security. Later, when it became evident that there were no
WMD, we even began to talk in terms of a rationale that sounded as though
we were literally using the Iraqis as a means to our own ends, "better to
fight the terrorists there in Iraq, then here" went the blatantly
Today, however, we are apparently about the business of trying to convince
ourselves that we were doing the Iraqis an act of supreme kindness, and
that although we are willing to give them one more chance, they have so
far proven to be ungrateful and lacking in the courage and resolve to make
use of the sacrifices that Americans have made on their behalf.
Some philosophers and psychologists have argued that certain forms of
self-deception are essential to our mental health. After all, there are
stark truths that can immobilize a person or a country. Given the terrible
sacrifices that our soldiers and the Iraqis are going to have to continue
to make, it might be very hard for us to acknowledge that without good
reason, we opened the tap of a predicable blood bath that we can't seem to
From a motivational point of view, Americans might find it helpful to
pretend as though the troop surge was another facet of our Iraqi good will
mission and that if the Iraqis only knew what was good for them, they
would show more appreciation and pitch in and help us and themselves out.
Maybe that is the line that we need to feed ourselves as we sludge through
the incubus of the current conflict. However, I cannot imagine that this
myth would be anything less than an egregious insult to the people whose
country we have turned upside down and inside out.
Gordon Marino is a visiting Professor of Philosophy and a Professor in the
College of Human Health and Performance at the University of Florida.