The Truth Of The Matter

So Thomas L. Friedman thinks America and American interests are destined to prevail in the Arab world because 4.5 million people voted for a winner in “Superstar,” the Arab version of “American Idol.”

Moreover, because the winner’s margin of victory was just 4% (this in a region of the world where “elections” generally produce predictable “victories” by margins in the 90s) it proves “America’s attempt to bring democracy to Iraq isn’t crazy – just something that will be very hard.”

How does such inanity make it onto the editorial page of The New York Times?

Mr. Friedman begins by acknowledging the notion that “culture matters” in what he calls the “emerging” debate over the propriety of our leaders’ having committed tens of billions of dollars and a growing number of American casualties to “this whole Iraq adventure.” He concludes, however, based on his own “encounters with young people in the Arab world since 9/11” and on an emailed report he got from a Jordanian friend about people going “wild in the street until the early hours of the morning” after the Jordanian contestant won the “Superstar” competition: satellite TV is the Arab world’s Democracy Wall. New ideas and new technologies will eventually trump cultural and historical legacies.

Well, maybe so. Perhaps, in time, with access to satellite TV, cellular technologies, the internet, and the many other wonders of modern ingenuity, people in Arab countries will get hip to the self-evident truths that inspired certain people in England a few hundred years ago. I don’t doubt that one day, everyday Arab people will understand what we here in the West seem to be forgetting at a mind-numbing clip: the people have the power and the institutions of government exist to serve the needs and interests of the people.

Meanwhile, what is more likely to occur as democracy gets a foothold in the Arab world, are scenes roughly akin to that in the studio where the semifinal round of “Superstar” was being taped: when the Lebanese contestant was eliminated (the show was produced and broadcast by Lebanon’s satellite TV network), “angry fans pelted each other with chairs and anything they could find, and the remaining two contestants fainted.”

So, a riot in a TV studio here, car bombs at a police station there – bringing democracy to the Arab world is definitely something that will be very hard ­ and very messy.

Mr. Friedman’s joy over a small fraction of that world which seems suited to the same voyeuristic pabulum dear to an embarrassingly larger fraction of the western world completely misses the point when it comes to the “debate” over America’s “adventure” in Iraq, however.

If we were spending upwards of 70 billion dollars to wire all of Iraq for satellite TV, cell phones, and the internet (not that those things necessarily top the list of all the Iraqi people need to join the modern world), it would be one thing. In reality, we are spending upwards of 70 billion dollars to bomb the living crap out of their roads, bridges, power stations, communications infrastructure, and in many cases, believe it or not, to kill many of the people we are supposedly there to help.

Which raises another point rapidly receding into the mists of memory in this so-called “debate” about the “adventure” in Iraq: we didn’t go there to bring democracy to Iraq.

Democracy may turn out to flower there as a wholly unintended consequence of our actions, but it was never offered by the President or anyone in his mendacious administration as a justification for the “adventure”. In fact, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz both repeatedly denied “nation building” as a goal in the run-up to the bombing that commenced last spring.

No, Bush lied to us all. He said we were going in to pry weapons of mass destruction from Saddam Hussein’s fat, murderous fingers. We all know about the lies, and we all know there are no weapons of mass destruction to be found.

What we don’t know, and what has yet to be acknowledged, is why the full force and fury of the American military was committed to benefit American oil companies and American oil service companies. Our interest in the Middle East has only ever been about, and will always, exclusively, be about oil. When the “debate” starts revolving around American oil interests and our own dependence on oil as a fuel to support all these wonderful modern technologies we bestow so kindly on the rest of the world, then we might be near an understanding of the long-term impact we will have on the Arab world, and an understanding of what that impact is likely to mean to the culture and the history of the West.

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