Sunday, February 06, 2005

When It's Their 'Hearts and Minds', Professor, Leave It To The Marines

Distinguished Berkeley economist and former Clinton Administration Treasury official J Bradford DeLong recently attempted a little face saving in light of an unanswerable challenge:

"Wanting to kill the enemy is an unsound method?"

[It is if you're trying to win hearts and minds and being a military police force.]

Which is not what the Marine General wants to do with jerks who slap women around, of course. However, according to Dexter Filkins of the New York Times, another (Vietnam) General was correct that, "their hearts and minds will follow":

Last week, as the euphoria of nationwide elections washed over this country, a remarkable thing happened: Iraqis, by and large, stopped talking about the Americans.

And, when they do:

Hachim Shahir, an 83-year-old bricklayer standing in line for hours to vote, was asked how it had been possible for somebody like him to arrive at such a late stage in life without ever having voted, and now finally to have cast a ballot. He thought for a long while, then answered:

"America - it was America that did it."

And how did he feel about that?

"America will be good if it completes what it came here to do, to bring us democracy, and then it goes home," Mr. Shahir said. "The main thing now is that they keep their promises, and leave. Personally, I believe they will do it."

The new mood appears to have continued since election day. The calls by candidates for a timetable for American military withdrawal have died away. Even a group of Sunni politicians decided last week that they would take part in the drafting of Iraq's new constitution without insisting on a timetable.

Getting Iraqis to take charge of their own affairs, whether by fighting insurgents or taking over government ministries, has been the goal of American leaders here since the fall of Saddam Hussein. After 22 months of trying to persuade the Iraqis to stand on their own, while doing everything for them, the Americans may be finding that Iraqis, now fully sovereign, don't want them to go home so soon after all.

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