Why James Lileks is flat-out wrong
James Lileks takes issue with Salam Pax’s letter to President Bush in the Guardian (link via Glenn Reynolds, who agrees with Lileks). The relevant portions of Pax’s letter first: Dear George, I hate to wake you up from that dream you are having, the one in which you are a superhero bringing democracy and freedom ...
James Lileks takes issue with Salam Pax's letter to President Bush in the Guardian (link via Glenn Reynolds, who agrees with Lileks). The relevant portions of Pax's letter first:
James Lileks takes issue with Salam Pax’s letter to President Bush in the Guardian (link via Glenn Reynolds, who agrees with Lileks). The relevant portions of Pax’s letter first:
Dear George, I hate to wake you up from that dream you are having, the one in which you are a superhero bringing democracy and freedom to underdeveloped, oppressed countries. But you really need to check things out in one of the countries you have recently bombed to freedom. Georgie, I am kind of worried that things are going a bit bad in Iraq and you don’t seem to care that much. You might want it to appear as if things are going well and sign Iraq off as a job well done, but I am afraid this is not the case. Listen, habibi, it is not over yet. Let me explain this in simple terms. You have spilled a glass full of tomato juice on an already dirty carpet and now you have to clean up the whole room. Not all of the mess is your fault but you volunteered to clean it up. I bet if someone had explained it to you like that you would have been less hasty going on our Rambo-in-Baghdad trip. To tell you the truth, I am glad that someone is doing the cleaning up, and thank you for getting rid of that scary guy with the hideous moustache that we had for president. But I have to say that the advertisements you were dropping from your B52s before the bombs fell promised a much more efficient and speedy service. We are a bit disappointed. So would you please, pretty please, with sugar on top, get your act together and stop telling people you have Iraq all figured out when you are giving us the trial-and-error approach?
To which Lileks responds [WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE]:
Hey, Salam? Fuck you. I know you’re the famous giggly blogger who gave us all a riveting view of the inner circle before the war, and thus know more about the situation than I do. Granted. But there’s a picture on the front page of my local paper today: third Minnesotan killed in Iraq. He died doing what you never had the stones to do: Pick up a rifle and face the Ba’athists. You owe him. Let me explain this in simple terms, habibi. You would have spent the rest of your life under Ba’athist rule. You might have gotten some nice architectural commissions to do a house for someone whose aroma was temporarily acceptable to the Tikriti mob. You might have worked your international connections, made it back to Vienna, lived a comfy exile’s life. What’s certain is that none of your pals would ever have gotten rid of that scary guy without the hideous moustache (as if his greatest sin was somehow a fashion faux pas) and the Saddam regime would have prospered into the next generation precisely because of people like you.
Here’s my reply to Lileks [WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE]:
Hey, James? Fuck you. I know you’re the talented writer-blogger whose dyspeptic rants make Dennis Miller look like a washed-up sports broadcaster. In this case, however, you’re absolutely correct on one thing — you know a hell of a lot less about this subject than Salam Pax. You’re absolutely right — Salam and his buddies would never have taken up arms to overthrow Saddam. Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that back in 1991, when President Bush encouraged ordinary Iraqis to overthrow Saddam, the results weren’t so good. Bush’s call worked perfectly. Seventeen out of eighteen provinces were in open revolt. Hussein was at his weakest. And what did the United States do after our call was answered by the Iraqi common man? Did we help in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 1991? Nope. We looked the other way while Hussein violated the no-fly zones to put down the Shi’ites, Marsh Arabs, Kurds, etc. We did it for realpolitik reasons, many of which the current Bush administration, to its credit, seems ready to reject. But we, the United States, did it. Why, on God’s green earth, would anyone ever choose to rise up after that Mongolian cluster-fuck of U.S. foreign policy? Let me explain this in simple terms, habibi. This was a debt that had to be repaid. Yeah, they owe us for getting rid of Saddam. But we owed them for going back on our word in 1991. As a result, Iraqis languished under Hussein’s rule an extra twelve years. That don’t buy a whole lot of sympathy. Three Minnestoans dead? I’m sorry. It’s a tragedy. I’m betting, however, that to the ordinary Iraqi, the death of three Americans doesn’t even compare to the loss of life that’s taken place over the past twelve years in Iraq, be it through war, repression, or sanctions. So get a grip, suck it up, and allow an eloquent, reasonably brave Iraqi the opportunity to vent some snark from time to time. He’s earned it.
UPDATE: Hmm…. this post seems to have generated a small amount of feedback while unintentionally intimidating Robert Tagorda. In case my anger got the best of me in what’s written above, a quick restatement: My basic problem with what Lileks wrote was the assumption that because Salam Pax had never taken up arms against Saddam (in contrast to U.S. armed forces), he was in no position to complain about the current state of affairs. My point was that Lileks elides some relevant recent history.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Anticipatory Retaliation has further thoughts on whether the U.S. was really to blame for what happened in the spring of 1991 — though see James Joyner and Will Saletan on this point as well.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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