David Brooks on The Closing of Iraq

Some days David Brooks is an interesting writer, and on other days he just cannot resist making partisan digs. Today he is interesting, even ending with a subtle criticism of George Bush as opposed to bashing liberals. Brooks reviews the World Values Survey which interviewed over 2,300 adults from all over Iraq. The results are not very surprising for a society which was mistreated under Saddam, suffered even more under American sanctions (regardless of whether they were justified) and now suffers as a consequence of the American invasion:

Inglehart, Moaddel and Tessler describe a people who, buffeted by violence, have withdrawn into mere survival mode. They are suspicious of outsiders and intolerant toward weak groups, and they cling fiercely to what is familiar and traditional.

The researchers asked the Iraqis if they would mind living next door to foreigners. In most societies, there is a small minority who say they would mind. Nine percent of Americans say they would mind, and in the median country internationally about 16 percent say they would mind. Ninety percent of the Iraqi Arab respondents rejected foreigners as neighbors.

As Inglehart, Moaddel and Tessler write, Iraqis “reject foreigners to a degree that is virtually unknown in other societies throughout the world, including more than a dozen predominantly Islamic countries.”

Iraqi Arabs almost universally reject Americans, Britons and the French, and roughly 60 percent reject Iranians, Kuwaitis and Jordanians, the groups they are least hostile to.

Iraqis also viscerally resist social reform and deviation from the traditional ways of doing things. For example, 93 percent of Arab Iraqis said men made better leaders than women, the highest proportion of any group in the world.

Iraqi Arabs were asked which values they would like to instill in their children. They emphasized “obedience” and “religious faith” more than any of the 80 other societies that have been studied. They were less likely to try to instill “independence” in their children than people in 74 of the study’s 80 societies.

Brooks notes that we had a poor understanding of the Iraqi people. For example, “American policy makers were surprised to learn how religious Iraqi society had become during the 1990’s. (Iraqi exiles had not prepared them for this.)” All this makes it more difficult to create a functioning nation. He believes that the best hope would be to improve their standards of living, but we needed to understand them better before even attempting nation building:

We know from a wealth of historical experience that when people see their standard of living rise, they reject the reactionary survival mentality and they become more open to others and to change. If people already see their lives improving materially, they will be more likely to keep their cool as their political institutions are reinvented.

In the age of terror, statesmanship means knowing how to create a sense of security so you can lead people on a voyage of reform. Most of all, it means that if you’re going to do nation-building, you have to understand the values of the people you’re going to build a nation with.

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