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Posted by on Jul 12, 2007 in War | 55 comments

A Second Reality Check

Earlier today, I published a post called “Reality Check” here at TMV (and at my own blog). Several people already responded. I would like to point out two – especially two – comments which basically prove my point. The first is a comment left by JLedell (an American):

The world thinks America’s invasion of Iraq was a mistake. I think you and most Americans now agree with that assessment. Our diminished image in the world is a direct result of that MISTAKE.

Most Americans believe in American Exceptionalism and so does much of the rest of the world, even though they might not like it. However, even Exceptionalism has it’s limits. It simply may not be within our power to “fix” Iraq. The problem may be too big and too far gone for even the US with it’s vast resources to fix.

I will only quote this part because it is my intention to make you all think about arguments against withdrawal that are ignored (blowback etc.). Now, let me make one thing very clear: the rest of the world does not believe in American exceptionalism. If there is one thing most people in Europe and the Mideast think about America, it is that America has too much power, and that America is arrogant. “American exceptionalism” is something only Americans and perhaps some Eastern Europeans believe in, the rest of the world has to do its best not to laugh out loud when Americans say that their country is a beacon of hope, an example to the world. Yes, this sounds harsh, but if you want to understand the world, you have to understand this.

Let me therefore quote another European who goes by the commenter name of Lynx (she’s half-American, lives in Spain):

As a Spanish-American hybrid who thinks she knows the general feeling of Spaniards pretty well I must coincide completely with Michael. You can argue about whether it’s fair for the US to be blamed, you can argue whether avoiding such blame is A- possible and B- worth the sacrifice in lives/economy, but you can’t really argue that it won’t happen. It will, absolutely. You are ALREADY blamed for the mess in Iraq, OF COURSE you will be blamed if it gets worse once you leave.

American exceptionalism is at work here. Please remember that ONLY the US automatically thinks the US is the good guys. You start with that assumption, and your conclusions are influenced by it. The rest of the world (except, maybe, Israel) does not automatically start with the US being the good guys, and a good deal of it (most especially in the Middle East) begin thought with exactly the opposite assumption. Again, you can argue about whether this is fair, but not that it isn’t real.

Think of it this way. Another country, say Japan starts a war with North Korea. They said the threat of an attack was imminent and implied Kim had ties to the nerve-gas attacks on their subways. They totally ignore calls from the rest of the world (including the US) to wait, that the evidence is not that clear, and invade anyway. Fast forward 5 years and the whole thing is a mess. Chaos reigns in North Korea as Japanese troops and what is left of their allies (most of whom have already left) struggle to maintain even a modicum of order. The North Korean “government” is fairly useless, as the elimination of Kim Jong Il from power (and subsequent trial and embarrassing public execution) has created a succession war of power amongst strongmen of a country that has very little in the way of democratic process, and whose stability depended exclusively on the iron grip of it’s dictator. People are hungry and blame the Japanese troops for eliminating what little stability they had, and alternate fighting them with fighting other factions for control of terrain and precious food. Japan has sustained many victims, but still 100 times fewer than the North Koreans, and decides that they’ve had it, they’re leaving. Having lost their previous taste for war they leave, and what little order was left in North Korea disappears, together with the steady supply of food that was all keeping many displaced North Koreans alive. The country plunges into all out civil war and famine and the world (including the US) condemns Japan for skirting it’s responsibility to the North Koreans after destroying their country. Koreans, of course, will hate the Japanese for generations to come, and other Asian nations close to Korea take note of the situation as well.

Does it sound like a wild fantasy to you? Do you honestly think it would be wrong to condemn Japan in those circumstances? The US is given special consideration and understanding ONLY by the US. To the rest of the world you are not special, you are not the Boss, you are another country, albeit a very powerful one with a tendency to get in trouble.

Mind you, I don’t see any good way out of this situation. I don’t think staying is going to help much unless some radical genius change takes place. With the current strategy all you are doing is putting off the inevitable (more) massive bloodbath. I wish I knew a way to avoid it, but I really don’t. Whenever the US leaves, now or in 10 years, if there is massive loss of life, they will be blamed. They started the mess, it’s only natural that they get blamed for how it ends, even if there is no way they could have possibly avoided it once the invasion and chaos had set in. In that case the only option is to leave and suck it in, put diplomatic relations into overdrive and hope against hope that the blame blows over quickly. It might in the West, but I fear that the consequences of this in the Middle East will be felt for decades to come.

Now – as far as I know, we are the only two Europeans who commented, and both of us should be considered pro-US. We do not agree with the above, but we do know that this is how the far majority of Europeans and Arabs will respond.

Again: I am not offering a solution here – my goal is merely to make you all think of something, of a downside, that is being ignored in most American media.