Thursday, May 03, 2007


[posted by Callimachus]

I'm fascinated by the "welcomed with flowers" meme on the anti-war left. It's brought up constantly, and always with a sneer. According to the meme, we were assured by our government our troops would be welcomed as liberators and given flowers and sweets when they toppled Saddam. According to the meme, this was a big fat pie in the sky lie and no such thing ever happened. It's more than a lie, it's the characteristic trope of the entire fantasy-based scenario of the Bushitler war.

But, as the photo above, and hundreds like it easily available online, attest, there were flowers and warm welcomes. I saw many such photos in the weeks after the fall of Saddam in my duties as a wire desk editor. American soldiers kissed, hugged, offered tea and candy, given flowers. Not just in Kurdistan. Not in trepidation. Not in cultural hospitality. Warmly, openly, honestly.

Neo-Neocon once traced this meme down, and found it originated not with Bush or Cheney but with Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya: "I most certainly do agree with that. As I told the President on January 10th, I think they will be greeted with sweets and flowers in the first months and simply have very, very little doubts that that is the case."

The days of sweets and flowers in Iraq soon faded. Big, nasty problems developed quickly. The problems were wicked, and the flowers were such little things.

But the honeymoon was real, if brief. Hundreds of photographs and thousands of personal stories stand as testimonials. Even Robert Fisk had to admit he saw it happen. It was real enough to sting the leftist anti-war commentariat, which, if you can root through their archives for April and May 2003, groused about it being phony. They even invented psychological explanations for it, including the reprehensible "Dr. Suzy" column on Counterpunch that likened Iraqis welcoming Americans to rape victims who seem to enjoy it. [A column taken literally in certain quarters in the Middle East, notably Turkey, resulting in the deaths of dozens of people in subsequent violent reactions.]

Those who were there even if they later, and understandably, turned against the war, haven't forgotten it:

All this, of course, was very early days, before disillusionment set in, then anger, then rage. But that evolution was not swift, nor, I firmly believe, was it inevitable. In many areas of Iraq, generally, palpably pro-American feeling was not imaginary, it was not rare, and -- apart from the total-infatuation, flower-tossing phase which did fade quickly -- it was not all that short-lived. In fact, I'd say - with considerable anger and frustration of my own - that the U.S. had at least one year in which the overwhelming majority of Iraqis were only too willing to believe that much as they disliked and then despised the fact of foreign occupation, that occupation was going to lead them somewhere they wanted to go.

So much has gone so badly wrong in that country, and everyone who secretly dreamed the war would fail, so the evil neocon president and his evil neocon policies would be forever discredited, has every reason to think the dream came true. Why is it so important to deny the flowers? They were, after all, such little things, with such brief lives.

Two reasons, I suspect. For one, it's a neatly baited trap. If you bother to point out, "In fact, there were flowers and welcomes for a time," you've opened the door, and your opposite number will charge through it and instantly change the subject. "Oh, you have photos? Well, look at these photos," and out come the Abu Ghraib and the questionable Al Jazeera coverage of Fallujah. "So you call this flowers and sweets, and out come the beheading pictures." And it's off to the races and you're tied to the nag's tail. It's useless to say "can we stick to the point" because then you'll be told you're living in a fantasy and ignoring "reality."

And the war to frame that reality is the other reason I think it's so essential to the anti-war folks to tread on the flowers. Victor Davis Hanson pointed out recently that a key to undermining the idealistic and optimistic -- "liberal," if you will -- neo-con approach to a free and democratic Iraq is to prove emphatically that the people of Iraq never did, and never will, want any part of it.

[S]uch a legitimate and necessary rationale depends also upon general empathy for the Middle East. We are embarking on this new course in the hopes that the American lives sacrificed and our treasure spent are for a friendly people that appreciates our efforts. I think they do, and that the record of brave Iraqi reformers is worth the effort — both for the sake of our future security and so as to adopt a new moral posture that respects Arab self-determination.

But, again, most Americans now don’t think it is worth it — and not just because of the cost we pay, but because of what we get in return. Turn on the television and the reporting is all hate: a Middle Eastern Muslim is blowing up someone in Israel, shooting a rocket from Gaza, chanting death to America in Beirut, stoning an adulterer in Tehran, losing a hand for thievery in Saudi Arabia, threatening to take back Spain, gassing someone in Iraq, or promising to wipe out Israel. An unhinged, secular Khadafi rants; a decrepit Saudi royal lectures; a wild-eyed Lebanese cleric threatens — whatever the country, whatever the political ideology, the American television viewer draws the same conclusion: we are always blamed for their own self-inflicted misery.

... The net result is the American voter is tired and saturated with negative imagery. Public opinion polls are notoriously fickle. But most show a sharp increase in negative views of Muslims in general. A 2006 Washington Post poll suggested that nearly half of all Americans had a negative view of Muslims — far higher even than was even found shortly after September 11. ...

This popular sentiment, to the extent it is ever voiced openly, is, of course, attributed to “intolerance” and “prejudice.” But the real catalysts are the endemic violence and hypocrisy that appear nightly on millions of television screens. When the liberal Left says of the war, “It isn’t worth it,” that message resonates, as the American public rightly suspects that it really means “They aren’t worth it.” Voters may not like particularly a Harry Reid, but in frustration at the violence, they sense now that, just like them, he also doesn’t like a vague somebody over there.

I think it goes back, in part, to framing the Iraq War in terms of the Vietnam War -- as that war was defined by the anti-war movement. Which was, "The unwilling, doing the impossible, for the ungrateful." A tripartite failure. So, in Iraq, first you portray the U.S. troops as either deluded dupes of Shrubbie or poor saps with no other way out of the ghetto. Second, make the entire effort, unequivocally, a fool's errand (which is why Kurdistan disappears). The third part is where the flowers die. All the Arabs/Muslims must hate us and all we stand for in their land.

Being in the media, I'm too jaded to endorse Hanson's conclusion that "Seeing more of the purple finger, and less of the shaking fist, is the key to regaining the hearts and minds of Americans — who in the end alone can win or lose this war." Oh, he's right enough. But you're just never going to get that. It has nothing to do with our political bias (real as it is), but with the nature of the news business.

Still, is it too much to ask you all to not trample the flowers? And we'll respect your anti-war bile a lot more if you at least acknowledge the reality is a little more complex than your anti-war slam dunk.

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