File this blatantly non-PC post under “Stirring the Hornet’s Nest.” Every once in a while, I start to wonder about the big issues, and sometimes the big issues are not pretty.
One of the biggest problems Americans have with Iraq is the endless lies.
With U.S. tanks rolling into central Baghdad, Iraq’s information minister denied in a rooftop news conference Monday that the Americans were in the city, declaring: “Be assured Baghdad is safe, secure and great.”
“They are sick in their minds. They say they brought 65 tanks into center of city. I say to you this talk is not true. This is part of their sick mind,” Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said. “There is no presence of American infidels in the city of Baghdad at all.”
Sahhaf, speaking outside the Palestine Hotel to a crowd of foreign reporters, said amid sirens and clouds of dust that Saddam Hussein’s forces had given invading coalition forces “poison and bitterness.”
“Their forces committed suicide by the hundreds. … The battle is very fierce and God made us victorious. The fighting continues,” he said. “Yesterday, we slaughtered them and we will continue to slaughter them.” (source)
For a more recent example, today a Sunni woman charged that she was raped by three Shiite policemen who arrested her.
Three officers of the Shiite-dominated police force have been cleared of allegations they raped a young Sunni woman in their custody and will instead be rewarded for their troubles, a government statement said Tuesday. The statement by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office accused “certain parties” of fabricating the allegation to discredit the security forces during the ongoing Baghdad security operation.
Now whether she lied or the government lied, someone lied and knew it. Sunnis in Iraq see themselves as the high class Iraqis and Shiites as low-class Iraqis, so this charge has just about the same impact that a charge that black soldiers raped a married white woman would have had in Alabama in 1945. The main difference is that Sunnis don’t run the country as their own plantation, however much they wish they still did.
Constant false accusations about American troops raping Iraqi women have been used since the beginning of the conflict to recruit Jihadist suicide bombers for al-Qaeda in Iraq. Stories of rape rooms in the Saddam-era Abu Ghraib have been used against Americans. Even the clumsy hanging of Saddam was blamed on America, as if America had an interest in talking trash to Saddam Hussein or stoking sectarian tensions in Iraq.
For another example, read about the Life and Death of Abu Deraa and contemplate how it could be that a well-known Shiite death squad leader like Abu Deraa would have been able to freely travel around Baghdad in official Health Ministry ambulances to kidnap and murder Sunnis, and was finally killed while riding in just such an ambulance. Someone at the Health Ministry was making ambulances available for death squad activity and someone at the Health Ministry was covering it up.
As Strategy Page noted on Feb 8:
How do you bring peace to a kleptocracy (a government run by competing thieves)? Corruption is still the one common thread found throughout the Iraqi government and society. Oh, you will also find honorable, hard working, patriotic men and women. You’ll also find evil megalomaniacs, fighting on against impossible odds for an improbably cause. But mostly you will find a lot of people looking for something to steal. Iraqis take this for granted, and those that immigrate to Europe or North America are pleasantly shocked at the relative lack of corruption they find in their new homes. But for all those Iraqis who cannot flee to those exotic foreign lands, life must go on.
For another ancient example of a less than flattering view of Arabs, read Aesop:
Hermes filled a cart with lies and dishonesty and all sorts of wicked tricks, and he journeyed in this cart throughout the land, going hither and thither from one tribe to another, dispensing to each nation a small portion of his wares. When he reached the land of the Arabs, so the story goes, his cart suddenly broke down along the way and was stuck there. The Arabs seized the contents of the cart as if it were a merchant’s valuable cargo, stripping the cart bare and preventing Hermes from continuing on his journey, although there were still some people he had not yet visited. As a result, Arabs are liars and charlatans, as I myself have learned from experience. There is not a word of truth that springs from their lips.
That’s probably over the top. If Aesop wasn’t dead 2,500 years he would deserve a stern rebuke.
But here is the problem. Americans are famed as straight talkers, tending toward naivete. How can Americans work with people who routinely lie and cheat and steal without learning to despise them, ignore everything they say, and do the opposite of what they want? The French government prevaricates somewhat less than Arabs, and yet Americans can hardly stand official France (the French people are a different story).
Americans dislike Arabs instinctively, far more than can be explained by wariness after 9/11. Americans do understand the difference between a lie and a mistake, leftist agitators notwithstanding. Lies turn Americans off.
What can be done? Is it worth it for America to help Iraq, given this problem with Arabs (who are the ethnic group in most of Iraq outside Kurdistan)? How can Americans be convinced that it is worth it to help Iraq? And who is poised to do this convincing?
And more generally… What can you do to protect yourself when you are helping a liar and cheat? What if the whole point of helping him is to change his way of thinking so he starts telling the truth and operating forthrightly?
Is it practical or a fool’s errand?