Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Robert Kaplan: "Where democratic governance does not exist, we must work with the material at hand. We have inherited our Anglo-Saxon traditions of liberty and democracy just as other peoples, with different historical experiences and geographical circumstances, have inherited theirs. And these other peoples yearn for justice and dignity, which does not always overlap with Western democracy."

Democracy may or not be the least worst system of human governance. How the hell would I know? I have lived only under this one particular system. Everything I understand about any of the others is just other people's ideas, seeped into my brain. What do I know about tribes? What I know about democracy is that it voted Hitler into power, and Hugo Chavez, and a ghastly, an appalling parade of stunted Napoleons in between. Something must be flawed with this theory too, this precious democracy of yours.

The tribal system has survived rather longer than the new-fangled institutions of our democracy. Tribes are, in fact, the first institutions by which God dealt with mankind as a whole. When the tongues were confused at Babel, they were divided along family lines. In this, it might be said that God created tribes. Lest one bring up Nimrod and his conquests, I'd point out that Noah's family was a tribe. Point being, by any paradigm, tribes represent the first known form of human government.

As for the contemporary Middle East, the American mind isn't really suited to understand the fundamental social dynamics of the situation. We think in terms of cities and towns. Not all that relevant a concept. Our nasty hearts sometimes may try to degrade these peoples as camel jockies and goatfarmers and date pickers. There's nothing degrading in using camels instead of cars, or eating dates instead of cheeze puffs. Are they rural, largely? So were my grandparents. Do they call their leaders elders instead of aldermen? There may be subtleties here that I'm missing. Cuz I'm really really comfortable with the idea that a tribal leader isn't going to be more corrupt than some councilperson on the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors. The mayor of LA is a former gangster. I think he's former. Corrupt? La Raza MEChA apparatchik. Pus and sewers call themselves to mind.

Tribes "don’t require Western institutions because they already have institutions of their own. What we call warlords are often, in reality, tribal elders who settle divorce cases, property disputes, and other civil conflicts for which we resort to the courts or government." How is this inferior? It offends us because it is ethnic. Exclusive. Racist. Well? So what? Racism is bad only when there's the expectation that we will be treated with impartiality. There are other criteria for social judgments than some theoretical and legislated 'equality'. We know this is true, and accept it, and practice it, and think it's right, when we deal with our own family. We feed our children and let other children go hungry. In other words, we are members of our tribe. It's only bad when it stops working.

So, that the benchmarks in Iraq aren't being met seems an irrelevance. They were invented months and months ago, before our wonderful SURGE got started and started making such a difference. Elections and a non-dysfunctional national government and whatever other symbols of pacific governance that we might like, are not in place. Instead we're busy bribing sheiks. So what? The sheiks, many of them, use that bribe money to promote the welfare of their people. They are, after all, politicians, and of a purer form.

We're buying peace? Good for us. Let it be a lasting and meaningful one. I expect it will be at least as meaningful as any we'd get from propping up some fat-bellied WOG eager to pad his expense account and salting away his bribe-money in Zurich in preparation for a lengthy London retirement.

That's the problem with Americans. We're so narrow, so provincial. Everything has to be done our way. The French have it right. They embrace their corruption, so tightly they can't tell its smell from their own. But why attack France. I'm sorry. I should have said California, a land where we love Democracy so much that our only political party is named for it.


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