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An Empire of Sentimentality

By Matthew Yglesias  

"An Empire of Sentimentality"

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I think this kind of sentiment from Dave Dilegge at the COIN hotspot Small Wars Journal reflects some dangerous trends in American culture:

Ain’t this just dandy and a pisser to boot – those who have strived – and died – to ensure Iraq’s freedom and future place as a responsible partner on the world scene are brushed aside for the latest bash Bush melodrama and a ‘real hero’ is on the scene – Iraqi who threw shoes at George Bush hailed as hero via The Times. Plenty on this elsewhere, on the dailies and wires – most likely more tomorrow – meanwhile back in the real word… People care, they die or suffer serious wounds, and their contributions are tossed aside for this. A damn shame it is, indeed.

Americans love and respect the men and women who volunteer for military service under our flag. And those of us who’ve had friends serve in Iraq, and especially those who’ve personally served in Iraq and watched friends be killed or maimed, think only the best of the people who’ve been doing dangerous jobs in difficult circumstances. But I think it’s crucially important not to allow these positive sentiments about soldiers and marines to deteriorate into sentimentality about the mission they were undertaking in Iraq. The Iraqi people didn’t ask to be liberarted conquered and occupied by a foreign power that destroyed their country and then immediately set about meddling in Iraqi politics and until just a month or so ago was struggling mightily for the right to permanently station military forces on Iraqi soil contrary to the will of the Iraqi public. Not only did Iraqis not ask for such services, but nobody anywhere has ever asked for them.

The harsh reality is that this was not a noble undertaking done for good reasons. It was a criminal enterprise launched by madmen cheered on by a chorus of fools and cowards. And it’s seen as such by virtually everyone all around the world — including but by no means limited to the Arab world. But it’s impolitic to point this out in the United States, and it’s clear that even a president-elect who had the wisdom not to be suckered in by the War Fever of 2002 has no intention of really acting to marginalize the bad actors. Which, I think, makes sense for his political objectives. But if Americans want to play a constructive role in world affairs, it’s vitally important for us to get in touch with the reality of what the past eight years of US foreign policy have been and how they’re seen and understood by people who aren’t stirred by the shibboleths of American patriotism.

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