Monday, August 25, 2003
# Posted 1:23 AM by Ariel David Adesnik
There's a basic principle in scientific theory: an hypothesis, to be a real hypothesis, must be capable of disproof. In other words, for an hypothesis to be a valid basis for research, there must be some data which, if found to be true, would prove the hypothesis was false. Otherwise, there's no way to test it.If Josh Marshall had been paying closer attention to my constant stream of writing on the occupation of Iraq, he would know that I have held to a single, observable standard for measuring the success or failure of the occupation. Instead of spending his time in the OxBlog archives, Josh chose to direct a small-minded accusation at my work: that it is a product of ideological blindness.
Given that caustic condescension is one of Mr. Marshall's trademarks, I'm not going to take his comments personally (even though I may hit back once in a while.) In fact, since I know that Josh meant well, I will do his homework for him and evaluate the evidence at hand according to my standard for measuring success and failure in Iraq.
In short, I want to know one thing about Iraq: Who is winning its hearts and minds? Strictly speaking, one cannot provide a definitive answer to such a question. Thus, one has to search for proximate indicators from which one can infer a defensible answer. In the following paragraphs, I focus in greater detail on the indicators I have chosen and evaluate the degree to which their reliability has held up over time.
In the opening days of the occupation, I spent a good amount of time asking what standard foreign observers should rely on during the course of the occupation to measure its success. In Foreign Policy, a pair of top-flight scholars argued that the struggle for women's rights would become the decisive front in the democratization process. I disagreed.
In fact, the standard I chose -- that of hearts and minds -- reflected a continuation of my prior interest in the Arab world's reaction to the invasion of Iraq. Most experts predicted a widespread backlash against American imperialism throughout the Arab world.
However, OxBlog insisted firmly and explicitly that the popular reaction in the Arab world would amount to nothing more than scattered and short-lived protests. Exactly as Josh Marshall would've wanted, this site laid out explicit criteria for what sort of evidence would confirm its interpretation. As a result, OxBlog took home all the bragging rights when its prediction turned out to be right.
Anyhow, the real point here is that OxBlog chose the hearts-and-minds standard because of my initial conclusion that the United States' reservoir of good will on the Arab street was far greater than most talking heads cared to believe. While critics mocked the phrase "liberation" during the opening weeks of the war, those who had faith in Iraq resentment of Saddam Hussein ultimately had the final say on the matter. (For those keeping score, Josh Marshall was on the losing side of that one, too.)
During the second week of the occupation, I had an extended discussion with Kevin Drum about whether or not the United States needed to enhance the legitimacy of the occupation by granting a leadership role to the UN. As I saw it, Iraqis wouldn't care about whether the US or the UN were in charge, but rather about whether the US lived up to its promise of letting Iraqi citizens have a taste of the freedom and prosperity that Saddam denied them. Given that opposition to the US occupation consists of Ba'ath loyalists and migrant Islamists, I think it's fair to say that I laid out a clear standard for judging this one and that the evidence came down on my side.
Also during the second week I reviewed the state of homefront support for the United States' occupation policy. While American citizens haven't shown much enthusiasm for the occupation, they haven't come across as resentful either. So let's call this one a tie and take a rain check.
In week three, the first signs of Shi'ite unrest led pundits to speculate that the euphoria of liberation had worn off and that the US would not be welcome in Iraq for long. Ever the dissident, OxBlog responded that
Thankfully, US officials don't seem prone to rush to conclusions as fast as the media has. As Jay Garner said,Given that Sunnis have been responsible for almost every attack on US forces since the occupation began, I think it's fair to say: Score for one for OxBlog. (So now it's three-zip. But who's counting?)"I think the bulk of the Shia, the majority of the Shia, are very glad they are where they are right now...Two weeks ago they wouldn't have been able to demonstrate."Exactly. There is every reason to believe that most Iraqi Shi'ites are greatful for their liberation. In fact, many indigenous Shi'ite clerics are open to working with the United States. What we have to watch out for are the ambitious men with friends in Teheran.
Week four was marred by a disturbing event that led some critics to assert that American soldiers were too violent to win over Iraqi hearts and minds. The event in question was the death of Fallujah-based protesters at the hands of American G.I.s. While dismayed, OxBlog insisted that "peaceful co-existence is possible with all those except the remaining partisans of Saddam." Make that four-zip.
To Be Continued...
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