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September 11, 2003

Max Boot Is Out of This World

by Juan Cole

Far rightwing journalist and resurgent imperialist Max Boot has come back from Iraq and pronounced the US venture there a resounding success. Of imperialism he said, "No need to run away from the label America's destiny is to police the world."

This gonzo style, borrowed on the sly from Ariel Sharon and falsely attributed to Teddy Roosevelt, puts Boot in a different universe from the rest of us. We who live in the real world are aware that literacy, mass communications, urbanization, the spread of engineering training, the internet and other developments have contributed to what social scientists call "social and political mobilization." The peoples of the world are not illiterate villagers anymore, as they largely were in the heydey of the British Raj. They aren't politically helpless and they won't put up with foreigners "policing" them, not for very long. Nor is the US actually wealthy enough to pay for all that policing. It is this extreme interventionism on the part of the American Right, especially Reagan's idiotic fostering of an equally gonzo Islamism, that has brought our country to its current crisis. Bootism is the disease, not the cure.

He admits that there still is no air travel in and out of Iraq. He admits that he was almost killed by a roadside bomb. But he is encouraged by the "bustling" of southern Shiite cities like Najaf and Karbala, and by the fact that no US Marines have been killed by guerrillas in the South. (He neglects my friend Kylan Jones-Huffman, who was briefing the Marines in al-Hilla when shot; he was Navy but it was the Marines who were targeted). Boot knows no Arabic and his report is sunny because he has no idea what he is talking about. Being in Iraq and being able to interpret what you see are two different things. I haven't been there, and I don't disagree that from everything I've read and heard, in the south the situation generally is not dire. But he seems unaware of the massive crime wave, of the assassinations, kidnappings, burglaries; of the riots in Diwaniya and al-Hilla against the American-appointed local administrators; of the riots and demonstrations that have roiled Basra (it is in the Shiite south, too), and of the networking and demonstrations of the Sadr movement. The same "bustling" of the bazaar he takes as such a good sign was going on under Saddam, too. Doesn't mean things are peachy keen.

He said the Americans were welcome everywhere in the south. But he appears not to have tried to venture into the teeming slums of Shiite East Baghdad, where they are most assuredly not welcome. Some ten percent of Iraqis live there. Although he was there for the Najaf bombing, he seems oblivious to the trauma that wrought on the Shiites of Najaf, and to the enormity of the loss for the US of the pragmatic Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim. He doesn't know that yet another assassination attempt was soon thereafter tried against another major quietist ayatollah.

Boot never saw a war he didn't love, never saw a conquest he didn't find exhilarating, never saw an occupied land he didn't think could be handled. He wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he monstrously expressed approval of the way the US killed 200,000 Filipinos to make the occupation of the Philippines stick. July 6, 2003 NYT: "The United States eventually won, but it was a long, hard, bloody slog that cost the lives of more than 4,200 American soldiers, 16,000 rebels and some 200,000 civilians. Even after the formal end of hostilities on July 4, 1902, sporadic resistance dragged on for years. There is no reason to think that the current struggle in Iraq will be remotely as difficult. But the Philippine war is a useful reminder that Americans have a long history of fighting guerrillas -- and usually prevailing, though seldom quickly or easily."

And this means what? That if the US has to kill 200,000 Iraqis to keep them down, it should? That this is a good thing? That largely illiterate and politically unmobilized Filipino villagers of the turn of the century bear any resemblance whatsoever to urbane, canny modernist Iraqis? Isn't there a way to charge such a person with war crimes for sympathizing with them? The whole silly thing is here.

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    Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Visit his blog.


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