IRAQ´S HOPES AND OURS (NEW YORK POST OP-ED) By GEORGE F. WILL 04/29/05)
NEW YORK POST
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April 29, 2005 -- ON Sunday night, Iraqi insurgents bombed the Al
Riadhy ice cream parlor in Baghdad, bringing to mind a movie that was
much on the minds of some U.S. military leaders on the eve of the war
The 1965 Italian movie "The Battle of Algiers" depicted France´s
military struggle in the second half of the 1950s to subdue the
Algerian uprising against French governance of that country. One
particularly horrifying scene showed the placing and then the
explosion of three terrorist bombs in crowded businesses one of
them a shop where, in a riveting cinematic moment, a small child was
enjoying an ice cream cone.
The differences between the Algerian insurgency and today´s Iraqi
insurgency are, of course, profound. In the former, North Africans
were rising in the name of self-determination against rule by
Europeans. Since the Jan. 30 Iraqi elections, Iraqi insurgents are
fighting an Iraqi government, albeit an embryonic one with a
dangerously protracted gestation period.
Still, a nagging question is whether, in Iraq as in Algeria, time is
on the insurgents´ side. In Algeria, French measures were skillful,
ruthless and, by late 1958, successful. Briefly. In 1962, France
retreated from Algeria.
The Algerian insurgency was fueled by the most potent "ism" of a
century of isms nationalism. In contrast, one of the strange,
almost surreal, aspects of the Iraqi insurgency is its lack of
ideological content. Most of the insurgents are "FREs" former
regime elements who simply want to return to power.
Unlike most of the violent cadres of the 20th century, the insurgency
does not have a fighting faith; it does not bother to have an
ideology to justify its claim to power. But it seems to have an idea,
which points purely to tactics.
The pedigree of the idea can be traced to a 17th century Englishman.
Thomas Hobbes was born in 1588, the year Protestant England defeated
the armada of Catholic Spain. He lived 91 years, through the
sectarian strife of England´s Civil War and the regicide of Charles
I. Hobbes wanted tranquility. His project was to establish the
philosophic foundations of government that could guarantee safety.
He said that without government in what Hobbes called the "state of
nature" even sociability itself was problematic because life
was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." To escape such
horrors, people would make a rational, if stark, social contract.
They would consent to surrender their natural rights in order to
empower a severely strong government that would at least release them
from fear of violent death.
Actually, his rationale for strong, even absolutist, government led
to consensual and limited government. This was because he postulated
natural rights, and because the idea of contracting rebuked the idea
of the divine right of kings. Power, even if absolute, was to arise
from consenting people. Hobbes died in 1679, the year of the Habeas
Corpus Act, a milestone on the road to limited government.
Iraq´s insurgents are degenerate Hobbesians Hobbes´ subtlety
reduced to the ruthless cunning of one idea: By promiscuously
dispensing death, thereby creating the chaos of a Hobbesian state of
nature, the insurgents hope to delegitimize the Iraqi government for
its failure to provide the primary social good freedom from fear of
To create chaos, the insurgents are applying again, unwittingly
another borrowed insight, this one from an American thinker who died
last year. Historian Daniel Boorstin understood the special strength
of small numbers indeed, the veto power of a sufficiently ruthless
minority given society´s dependence on "flow technology."
Through most of human history, Boorstin wrote, "in order to do damage
to other people, it was necessary for you to set things in motion
to throw a rock or wield a club." But in modern societies, where "the
economy and the technology are in motion," you do damage by stopping
things oil deliveries, electricity distribution, garbage
collection, water purification, etc.
Iraq is more urbanized than Wisconsin. Baghdad, where about one in
five Iraqis live, is a social organism about the size of Chicago. The
insurgency cannot hope to defeat the U.S. military but can believe
that it does not need to.
The basis of the insurgency´s hope desperate and implausible but
not completely delusional is also the basis of American
hopefulness: Iraq now has an Iraqi government. Another Iraqi
government nasty and brutish will come, in time, if today´s
evolving government seems incapable of preventing Iraqi life from
being nasty, brutish and, often, short. E-mail:
firstname.lastname@example.org (Copyright 2005 NYP Holdings, Inc. 04/29/05)
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