The Face of Defeat
Publius Pundit links to a fascinating webcast produced by the city of London, "Mayor's Question Time", at which Mayor Ken Livingstone calls a blogger "a terrorist" and claims "leading members of the Bush of administration" want Hugo Chavez assassinated. (Minutes 16 to 19 of the video). It's hardly worth watching for the spoken word, as it is pretty much standard fare for Red Ken, but it is priceless for examining Livingstone's manner, which would have done justice to the kings of pre-revolutionary France. Livingstone is so confirmed in his moral superiority that he perceptibly peers down his nose at the miserable worms writhing in the ethical slime beneath. Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon is similarly sure of her position on the subject of abortion.
Now I think the reason the idea of framing alarms people is we only notice it when the frame is being used to obscure the speaker’s true intentions. But framing to disguise the truth is a very narrow kind of framing called “doublespeak”. ... The reason I bring this up is I’ve started a review copy of a book by Steven Poole called Unspeak and right away in the intro he equates the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” as not only examples of framing but also of doublespeak/propaganda. In other words, he bought into the idea behind the doublespeak term “fair and balanced” that lulls people into thinking that in order to be fair you must pretend there are two sides to any debate and they are morally equivalent. That and he fell into the trap of thinking that framing is inherently deceptive, i.e. that all framing is doublespeak. I’m thinking the book will get better when he starts examining specific examples of using language to obscure truth, but I have to lash out at this point because dammit, equating the doublespeak term “pro-life” with the more standard framing of the side that stands for abortion rights as “pro-choice” is one of my pet peeves.
We see that arguing against abortion, at least in terms of "pro-life" phraseology, is deceptive and illegitimate. Like Ken Livingstone holding court in his own hall or a judge from his bench, Marcotte rules the contrary argument out of order. Very well. Now let's see how this moral disparity affects the debate on Iraq. "We all know" that Iraq is the worst American defeat since Vietnam but Amir Taheri's in Commentary points out that even catastrophes have their bright side.
Since my first encounter with Iraq almost 40 years ago, I have relied on several broad measures of social and economic health to assess the country's condition. Through good times and bad, these signs have proved remarkably accurate ...
The first sign is refugees. When things have been truly desperate in Iraqin 1959, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1980, 1988, and 1990 long queues of Iraqis have formed at the Turkish and Iranian frontiers, hoping to escape. In 1973, for example, when Saddam Hussein decided to expel all those whose ancestors had not been Ottoman citizens before Iraqs creation as a state, some 1.2 million Iraqis left their homes in the space of just six weeks. This was not the temporary exile of a small group of middle-class professionals and intellectuals, which is a common enough phenomenon in most Arab countries. Rather, it was a departure en masse, affecting people both in small villages and in big cities, and it was a scene regularly repeated under Saddam Hussein.
Since the toppling of Saddam in 2003, this is one highly damaging image we have not seen on our television sets and we can be sure that we would be seeing it if it were there to be shown. To the contrary, Iraqis, far from fleeing, have been returning home. By the end of 2005, in the most conservative estimate, the number of returnees topped the 1.2-million mark. Many of the camps set up for fleeing Iraqis in Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia since 1959 have now closed down. The oldest such center, at Ashrafiayh in southwest Iran, was formally shut when its last Iraqi guests returned home in 2004.
A second dependable sign likewise concerns human movement, but of a different kind. This is the flow of religious pilgrims to the Shiite shrines in Karbala and Najaf. Whenever things start to go badly in Iraq, this stream is reduced to a trickle and then it dries up completely. From 1991 (when Saddam Hussein massacred Shiites involved in a revolt against him) to 2003, there were scarcely any pilgrims to these cities. Since Saddams fall, they have been flooded with visitors. In 2005, the holy sites received an estimated 12 million pilgrims, making them the most visited spots in the entire Muslim world, ahead of both Mecca and Medina.
Over 3,000 Iraqi clerics have also returned from exile, and Shiite seminaries, which just a few years ago held no more than a few dozen pupils, now boast over 15,000 from 40 different countries. This is because Najaf, the oldest center of Shiite scholarship, is once again able to offer an alternative to Qom, the Iranian holy city where a radical and highly politicized version of Shiism is taught. Those wishing to pursue the study of more traditional and quietist forms of Shiism now go to Iraq where, unlike in Iran, the seminaries are not controlled by the government and its secret police.
A third sign, this one of the hard economic variety, is the value of the Iraqi dinar, especially as compared with the regions other major currencies. In the final years of Saddam Husseins rule, the Iraqi dinar was in free fall; after 1995, it was no longer even traded in Iran and Kuwait. By contrast, the new dinar, introduced early in 2004, is doing well against both the Kuwaiti dinar and the Iranian rial, having risen by 17 percent against the former and by 23 percent against the latter. Although it is still impossible to fix its value against a basket of international currencies, the new Iraqi dinar has done well against the U.S. dollar, increasing in value by almost 18 percent between August 2004 and August 2005. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis, and millions of Iranians and Kuwaitis, now treat it as a safe and solid medium of exchange
My fourth time-tested sign is the level of activity by small and medium-sized businesses. In the past, whenever things have gone downhill in Iraq, large numbers of such enterprises have simply closed down, with the countrys most capable entrepreneurs decamping to Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states, Turkey, Iran, and even Europe and North America. Since liberation, however, Iraq has witnessed a private-sector boom, especially among small and medium-sized businesses.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, as well as numerous private studies, the Iraqi economy has been doing better than any other in the region. The countrys gross domestic product rose to almost $90 billion in 2004 (the latest year for which figures are available), more than double the output for 2003, and its real growth rate, as estimated by the IMF, was 52.3 per cent. In that same period, exports increased by more than $3 billion, while the inflation rate fell to 25.4 percent, down from 70 percent in 2002. The unemployment rate was halved, from 60 percent to 30 percent.
None of this is necessarily proof of final success in Iraq. But the question, which has not examined in detail, is whether Amir Taheri's allegations are true. Have millions of refugees returned to Iraq? Are millions of pilgrims swarming into southern Iraq from the Shi'ite world? Is the Iraqi economy up, at least vis-a-vis its neighbors? These are serious charges, not in the least because if true, certain politicians have essentially advocated abandoning the very policies that made them possible. Now maybe having millions of Shi'ites flowing into Iraq is something America shouldn't want. Maybe having 3,000 Iraqi clerics return from exile is actually a bad thing. Maybe the Iraqi private sector boom, if it exists, actually benefits certain political factions hostile to America. But it is something politicians should be debating; something the papers should be covering. At least in more detail than they have till now. Or maybe it isn't a defeat after all.