Do We Want to be Liked or Respected

DO WE WANT TO BE LIKED OR RESPECTED?….Writing about our desire to have a permanent military base in Iraq, Matt Yglesias points out today that we are probably going to have a choice to make in the near future: a democratic Iraq vs. a pro-America Iraq.

The inability of most Americans (well, most humans, I suppose) to see the world through any eyes but their own is truly remarkable. We seem to feel that because we think America is a great and altruistic country, others will feel the same way if we can only get them to look at the world rationally. Thus, democracy will produce an America-friendly Iraq.

Is it really so impossible to understand that Iraqis view our presence quite differently than we do? By way of comparison, can you think of any circumstance ? nuclear devastation, total economic collapse, bubonic plague, anything ? that would make you happy to accept a reconstruction of America along Mideastern lines even if it were carried out by an Arab country that truly had our best interests at heart?

We can install a pro-America government in Iraq, as we did in Iran for many years, but it won’t be a popular one. Or we can install a popular one, but it will almost certainly be hostile to American interests. Remember, even Turkey, which has been a key American ally for half a century, opposed American action in Iraq by about 90%-10%.

We’ve seen the stick, now it’s time for the Bush administration to tone down the blustering and bring out the carrot. So far I haven’t seen it, and I don’t think the Arab world has either.

UPDATE: And almost like an ironic God is watching over me, ?ber-rationalist Steven Den Beste has now responded to Matt’s post in comments:

But in actuality, [an American military base is] not going to be something they’ll fight very hard, and in fact they actually will want it. One reason is that a US base is really good for local business. Another is that Iraq is going to be vulnerable to its neighbors for a long time, and a big concentration of American troops is good insurance against that. And the record in the world is that generally speaking American bases make good neighbors, which is why so many nations are so eager to have us.

In the case of Iraq, there’s yet another reason. The presence of a large American military in the region will help keep warlords from getting uppity; it’s going to be an indirect guarantee of ongoing peace in the nation.

“So many nations are eager to have us”? The Iraqis will enjoy our presence because it’s “good for local business”? How is it possible for such a smart person to assume that everyone in the world has the same Western attitude toward things that we do? After all, if an actual popular vote were taken today, there wouldn’t be a single American soldier anywhere in the entire Middle East.

Of course, none of this is the real reason we’ll have our base there anyway. As he admits in the next sentence, the real reason is that “They don’t really have any choice.” Quite so, but that’s not exactly a democratic attitude, is it?

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