Saturday, September 25, 2004

"The Iraqi People"

I'm a bit puzzled by the recent rhetoric regarding Iraq. Too often we hear things like, "well, it'll be up to the Iraqi people then..." "The Iraqi People" are not capable of any kind of collective action, and there is not as of yet any way to implement some kind of aggregation of their preferences. That requires institutions and government.

It's simple to sigh and say "uh, hey, Iraqis! can't we all just stop killing each other and get along! life will be better then!" If everyone could agree to do that, life would likely get a lot better for the vast majority of the population, excluding the x% of people there (Iraqi or non-Iraqi) who may be truly twisted folks who do wish to continue to destabilize things through violence, and who would therefore be unhappy with a more stable Iraq. Let's label those people "the terrorists."

But, there are lots of reasons an Iraqi may feel it is in his/her interest to take up arms against US troops and Allawi's guard which have nothing to do with the fact that they're Islamic militants dedicated to establishing some sort of pan-Arab theocracy. You may be a bit pissed off because a few too many of your friends and family have been hit by US bombs. You may do it because you figure your odds of survival are better if you do, because your neighbors are putting a wee bit of pressure on you or your family.

The Brooksian pundits imagine that collectively the people of Iraq could sit down with Kyra Phillips and Tom Friedman and have the purpose of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" explained to them, and everything would be okay (and then Brooks could kill anyone who didn't get on board). But, it doesn't really work that way. These people need to consider what it's like to live in a war zone, with people you know getting killed, and understand that the incentive structure might lead to some unpleasant behavior. And you have to throw in the fact that while most Americans think American lives are more important, and in fact imagine that all good people should agree with that, we shouldn't expect that they will...