Skip to comments.Mark Steyn: Iraq has never had it so good
Posted on 03/25/2004 6:21:36 AM PST by Pokey78
Before we get on to the breezy assertions and specious arguments, here are ten facts about Iraq today:
1) Saddam Hussein is in jail, his sons are in paradise, and of the 52 faces on the Pentagons deck of cards all but nine are now in one or the other of those locations.
2) The coalition casualties in February were the lowest since the war began.
3) Attacks on the Iraqi oil pipelines have fallen by 75 per cent since last autumn, and crude oil production in British-controlled southern Iraq is at 127 per cent of the target set immediately after the war.
4) The prewar potable water supply 12.9 million litres has been doubled.
5) The historic marshlands of southern Iraq, environmentally devastated by Saddam, are being restored, and tens of thousands of marsh Arabs have returned to their ancient homeland.
6) Public healthcare funding in Iraq is more than 25 times higher than it was a year ago and child immunisation rates have improved by 25 per cent.
7) Iraqs only international port has been modernised and desilted so that it is now able to take large ships without waiting for the tide, and daily commercial aircraft departures are 100 times higher than prewar.
8) School attendance in Iraq is 10 per cent higher than a year ago.
9) Despite Saddam emptying his prisons of cutpurses and other neer-do-wells just before the war, coalition authorities report that crime in Basra has fallen by 70 per cent.
10) The interim Iraqi constitution is the most liberal in the Arab world. I dont think its possible for anyone who looks at Iraq honestly to see it as anything other than a success story. Not perfect by any means, but a year after the war was launched the glass is at least five-eighths full, and by any objective measure Iraq is immensely improved. If you belong to Not In Our Name or Environmental Choreographers Against Genocide or Spaniards For A Quiet Life or Former Tory Cabinet Ministers United For A Saddamite Restoration, you can dispute that assessment. But in doing so youre at odds with the Iraqi people. In the most recent national survey by Britains Oxford Research International 56 per cent of Iraqis said their lives were much or somewhat better than a year ago, while 19 per cent said they were much or somewhat worse. Seventy-one per cent of Iraqis expect their lives to be better still a year from now and only 6.6 per cent expect them to be worse.
Many Iraqis are voting with their feet. The UN High Commission for Refugees, which was expecting about two million new refugees to flee from the war last year, instead found no takers. All the traffics the other way, and the UN is now closing down its camps around Iraqs borders owing to lack of business. The other day, the UNs Ashrafi Camp in Iran, after 30 years as the largest Iraqi refugee facility, threw in the towel when the last refugee went home. Despite being advised by UNHCR that it was unsafe to do so, a million Iraqis are said to have gone back. Not bad for a country which in Saddams day was the fifth-largest exporter of refugees.
Much of this was predictable. Modesty (and a certain wariness during this weird ownership hiatus at the Speccie) prevents me from simply reprinting my Telegraph column from 12 April last year in this space and taking a week off in the Bahamas. But, if youve got one of these new-fangled computer thingies, go to the Telegraph website and fish it out. At the time, the quagmire crowd, recovering from the non-Stalingrad-like fall of Baghdad, had moved on to a glittering new array of prêt-à-porter quagmires, a veritable quagjam of imminent catastrophe. You know the routine a massive humanitarian disaster (predicted by the head of the World Food Programme), a slide into violent anarchy, Kurdish secession, mass uprisings by the Arab street, etc, etc. I assured Telegraph readers none of these things would occur the Kurds would settle for being Scotland or Quebec rather than Pakistan. And, indeed, when it came to draft the interim constitution, thats just what happened: as with French in Canada, Kurdish will be an official language of the new Iraq.
But dont worry. If you were opposed to war with Iraq, I long ago gave up hopes of changing anybodys mind. If youre one of the BUSH LIED PEOPLE DIED crowd, I understand that the fact that very few people have died and that, indeed, theres a significant net gain in lives for every day Saddam is out of power is less important than the menace the Bushitler poses to the world. But not every nay-sayer belongs to the freakshow Left, and the resistance to the Iraq war among what passes for the Right in Britain is far more distressing. If one can get past the snobbishness of Conservatives toward the swaggering Texan, the main objection seems to be to the radicalism of the Bush project. Some of this is a fear over pre-emption of a world in which the only hyperpower reserves unto itself the right to remove regimes that catch its eye for the wrong reason. Theres nothing terribly novel about this. As Pilger and the other armchair insurgents like to point out, 50 years ago London and Washington gave nary a thought to removing Mossadeq. No Security Council resolutions, no nothing. What happened between then and now was a legalistic fetishisation of state sovereignty that was less post-colonial than post-modern. No matter how dysfunctional and absurd a state is, its sovereignty i.e., the dictators sovereignty is inviolable. That notion, in which the UN gentlemens club guarantees the security of every kook and oddball at the table, is much more radical than pre-emption.
Slightly less ridiculous is the argument that the Bush project the seeding of genuine liberty in a region thats never known it is simply never going to work. Thats quite possible. But we know for certain that the old realpolitik approach to the Middle East doesnt work: thats what gave us September 11. The theory some of us have advanced for two and a half years now is that the regions stability the stability of a petrified septic tank is the problem, and that any upturning of that stability would be hard put to make things worse.
But it isnt a theory any longer. Instead of just rushing in and holding a national election, the Americans went in with a Tocquevillian plan to build representative government from the ground up. As Andrew Natsios of the US Agency for International Development says, Local government is the schoolhouse of democracy. Iraqs new town councils are up and running and covering 90 per cent of the population. When youre building a state, that local foundation matters more than the federal government, the final brick in the pyramid. This is a complete inversion of the way the British did things when they invented Iraq: they started by importing a king from the Hashemites and worked down. But, given the way that turned out, the American method could hardly be less successful. (As readers know, Im an old-school imperialist, but if I were the likes of Sir Max Hastings Id think twice about trumpeting the superiority of John Bulls approach to the fuzzy-wuzzy, given that most of the current hot spots Iraq, the West Bank, Kashmir, the Afghan/Pakistan border are the legacy of British imperial failure.)
What the nay-sayers also miss is the impact the Iraqi experiment is having on its neighbours. When I was motoring around Iraq last spring, I started from Amman, as my colleague Matthew Parris did last week. Unlike him, I wasnt met at the airport by my chauffeur and I didnt drive in a convoy of white SUVs the most loathed vehicles in Iraq, incidentally, as you quickly pick up if youre ever sitting in a café in a town square and one pulls up with UN or NGO markings. Anyway, riding back in my beat-up Nissan piece of junk Id rented at the airport, I decided after roughing it in Iraqs western desert to treat myself to an executive suite at the Grand Hyatt for a few days. The Jordanian bigwigs were very relieved that Saddams boot was no longer on the Hashemite windpipe. But, more than that, everybody I ran into businessmen from the Emirates, Saudi sheikhs, candidates for that months Jordanian elections, Westernised Islamototty in the Amman boutiques, Arab intellectuals (a fairly loose term) was fascinated by what was going on in Iraq.
As much as these folks disliked Bush and America and Britain, they had priorities of their own economic liberalisation, womens rights, a non-tribal political culture, etc. and they accepted that what had just happened in Iraq would have tremendous implications throughout the region. Some said this with regret; they were ashamed that it took Western occupation to provoke political liberalisation in the Arab world. A year on, far from inflaming the Arab street, theres a broad acceptance of what happened throughout most of the Middle East. In Iraq itself, only 15 per cent of the population want the immediate withdrawal of coalition troops. But in Jordan and other Arab countries the most recent polls show that attitudes to America have perked up over the last year, albeit from an admittedly abysmal low. The good news is that Americans are now no more despised than the EU.
I wish more people in Britain and Europe could take pleasure in the achievements of the last year. Instead, they are obsessed with trivialities and invent strange new bogeymen like neocons, a category that barely exists except as a catch-all for any Bush adviser of robust views. The other day I was reading a column in the International Herald Tribune by Geoffrey Wheatcroft, no stranger to these pages, about Conrad Blacks cabal of self-hating Canadians Barbara Amiel, David Frum and yours truly. Why this should be a subject of interest to Herald Tribune readers, Ive no idea. Perhaps it was a slow day. But in the course of his column Wheatcroft dropped a sentence that stopped me short: Where the standard neoconservative line is aggressively optimistic Israel is here to stay, and dont forget it Amiel is revealingly different.
There are plenty of examples of neocon aggressive optimism, the new Iraq being the obvious example. But I cant quite believe that Wheatcroft intended to suggest that the continued existence of Israel is now merely a neoconservative position. If so, its no wonder that Europeans regard Iraq as an insane adventure. For most Americans, the Palestinian conflict is a peripheral problem, though, when you bring it to their attention, they incline towards the Israeli position. For Europeans, the Palestinians are the prism through which they view the entire region and if you honestly believe that Sheikh Yassin was a revered spiritual leader then its no wonder you find it hard to comprehend the advances in Iraq, where the revered spiritual leader (Ayatollah Sistani) is of an entirely different order.
Meanwhile, the aggressive optimism seems justified. The dominoes have all begun teetering in the right direction. Even the most gung-ho Iranian theocrat doesnt expect the mullahs to be running the joint in ten years time, or even five. In Syria, Boy Assad thought he could have fun destabilising the new Iraq. Instead, its destabilising him. For the first time in years, there are serious protests against what is now the sole surviving Baath party. Syrian Kurds, eyeing their brethren over the border, have been raising the Kurdish flag and toppling statues of young Bashar. The Syrians have announced what are so far mainly cosmetic changes, but the fact that they feel obliged even to fake some phoney reforms is the best indication of where things are heading. There will be movement in both Iran and Syria before the end of the year. As for Libya, let Matthew Parris believe the Gaddafi cave-in has nothing to do with Iraq: every man is entitled to find comfort where he can. But, for whatever reason, all these movements are in the direction laid out by Bush in his Whitehall speech in November.
As for Iraq needing UN legitimacy, why not ask the people? The UN to them means decadent bureaucrats like Hans von Sponeck, the former UN co-ordinator for Iraq who the other day expressed his preference for the order Saddam brought to the country, or the stinking sewer of the oil-for-food programme, a humanitarian intervention that turned into a money-laundering scheme for Saddams Western cronies. If its a choice between aggressive neocon optimism or the UNs slum-landlord approach to nation-building, I know which Ill take. Look at it this way. Which would you bet on? Iraq and Afghanistan? Or Haiti and Kosovo?
"God darnit, Mr. Steyn, you use your tongue prettier than a $20 whore."
Taggart/Slim Pickins (Blazing Saddles)
This one is telling, not just because it means people can feel safer and be happier. It also implies at least the possibility of an economic boom. There's nothing to suppress an economy like fear, and nothing to boost it like optimism.
Came from the french, you remember.
Sure I remember but the bacon saving occurred in the 20th century and the Statue of Liberty was given in the 19th century so it couldn't have been a reward for something that hadn't happened yet.
Did we do some french bacon saving in the 1800 that I don't recall?
I am happy to know that I can bash with a clear conscience.
Yeah! Why we love him.
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