You never know what you're going to find when you riffle through old files. Sometimes you get nothing, sometimes you get a few things, and every once in a while, you get absolutely everything you could have wanted.
Today was not one of those days. However, as I was browsing through a thousand-odd pages of correspondence from the mid-to-late 1940s on France's foreign policy vis-à-vis Germany, I stumbled across something that somebody really ought to read to the Deciderer and his policy-wonk wannabes before they go into the G8 meetings tomorrow.
It was written nearly 60 years ago by Paul Claudel, a French poet and sometime diplomat (and member of the Académie Française). It originally appeared in the July 1948 issue of the Stuttgarter Rundschau under the title "Deutschland Frankreichs Schild" ("Germany is France's Shield"). It's a long article, but here's the relevant bit:
Aber mit Kasernenhofmethoden wird man niemals ein Volk die Freiheit und die Demokratie lehren können. Nur wenn es die Freiheit lebt, wird es die Freiheit lernen.
Diese Freiheit muß gelebt sein. Man soll nicht aus dem deutschen Menschen ein soziales Atom machen, das von Zeit zu Zeit einen Zettel Papier durch den Schlitz einer Wahlurne steckt; man muß ein Bürger aus ihm machen, genau so wie wir Franzosen uns den “citoyen” denken: seiner selbst bewußt, voll Tätigkeit, voll Verantwortungsgefühl, bereit alles zu schaffen, was seine Hände schaffen können.
But you'll never be able to teach a people freedom and democracy with parade-ground methods. Only when they live freedom will they learn freedom.
This freedom must be lived. We shouldn't turn the German man into a social atom, who occasionally pushes a piece of paper through the slot of a ballot box; we should make a citizen out of him, in just the same way as we French think of a "citoyen": conscious of himself, with full ability, full sense of responsibility, and ready to create whatever his hands are capable of creating.
Just change "German" into "Iraqi" and "French" into "American," and presto, instant important message for the pretzelnit. Not that he'd ever pay any attention to it of course, though that does not for a moment diminish its appropriateness or the veracity of the opinions Claudel stated.
And that's exactly what the Shrubbery has gotten wrong, these past four years in Iraq. The neocons in the think tanks who planned this war grew up on video games, where all you have to do to win is defeat the enemy. The peace, it is--and was in this case--presumed, will take care of itself.
But the real world is a whole lot messier and more complicated than that. Bush and his cronies only have a military solution for Iraq because that's the only thing they understand. They think that if they just throw enough troops and enough equipment at Iraq, it will suddenly stabilize and become peaceful, and freedom and democracy will bloom in the sands between the Tigris and the Euphrates, at which point they can declare victory and throw themselves yet another huge party to celebrate their "vision."
They should have talked to a few of the veterans of the U.S. occupation forces in Germany or Japan after World War II. Those guys knew what the hell they were doing--they had planned for years before ever setting foot on occupied territory for every possible contingency. They had lawyers, architects, engineers, policemen, even art historians and archivists on staff, to deal with the 10,001 headaches they were going to be instantly confronted with whenever they entered another town, village, city, or hamlet that had been blasted back to the Stone Age. They didn't assume they were going to be met with flowers and candy by the locals--quite the opposite--and they came prepared to deal with that situation, too.
Yes, of course there were regulations and restrictions placed on the occupied population for a time. But these were no heavier than they needed to be, and they didn't last all that long. And when we said we would protect the people in a given location, we did it. We didn't build a big wall around our own billets and protect that while leaving everything else in the town to the not-so-tender mercies of the disaffected, the way we've done in Baghdad. If a civilian official wasn't working out or couldn't cope with the workload, we replaced him with someone else who could, and quickly. And as soon as possible, we got the hell out of the way and let real democracy take the place of the ersatz version we had imposed.
In Iraq, we've barely managed to impose the ersatz version of freedom and democracy, and for the overwhelming majority of Iraqis, we might as well not have bothered, given that it has absolutely zero effect on them. Sure, lots of people got purple blotches on their thumbs (or was it index fingers?) and we called that a "successful" election--but the people those purple-digited Iraqis elected haven't been able to do a damn thing since taking office, and the Shrubbery is doing bugger all to replace them with (or even to suggest that they be replaced by) anybody who might actually be able to carry out executive functions.
The bigger problem, of course, is that there may not be such a person in Iraq. The situation there is so unstable that the very idea of trying to go about any semblance of a normal life is just ludicrous. You can have all the experts in the world, all devoted to the idea of democracy and order and sanity--and if they haven't got the trust of the people they're trying to govern, the best course of action is for them to get the hell out of harm's way until things settle down.
This, of course, is what the Shrubbery absolutely does not want to admit--that there is no chance that Iraq in its current form will be able to maintain itself as a sovereign state. It seems a virtual certainty that the Sunnis, the Shi'a, and the Kurds are never going to be able to bury their respective hatchets and are eventually going to decide to go their separate ways--most likely after a long, bloody conflict that will make what's currently going on in Iraq look like a particularly dull garden party. There is literally nothing that Bush--or anybody else--can do to keep that from happening. The djinn is already out of the bottle, Humpty Dumpty has fallen off his wall, and all the king's horses and all the king's men are not going to be able to put him together again.
And that was one of the things that made Barack Obama's recent piece in Foreign Affairs (about which I wrote last Thursday). Because he doesn't seem to see the contradiction, either. His answer to terrorism, and other threats facing the United States, is more military might, more defense spending, and more unilateral military actions.
We can't stop terrorism with guns. We can, however (as witness the last six years under the Shrubbery) ignite it in places where it had never before shown up if we only think of guns and bombs as our response, and not doing something to make real citizens, with real capabilities for meaningful action in the world, out of those who would otherwise want to throw bombs at us. We have got to find alternative solutions. The ones we've been using for the last 50 years aren't working anymore, and it's time we acknowledged that salient fact.