Where have all the flowers gone?
One of my readers, and Michael Totten, have called my attention to this interesting interview with the always witty, sometimes spot on, sometimes infuriating Christopher Hitchens (well, at least I can be thankful I'm not his brother).
Hitchens was asked about the resentment of the Iraqi people towards the Americans. In his answer, he refers to seeing with his own eyes the famous "sweets and flowers" (either actual or metaphorical) with which the troops were welcomed, and which others contend were nonexistent and an example of the Bush administration's stupidity (although for some reason, in the transcript as given, "sweets" is spelled "suites"--hmmm, I bet there were some of those, too!):
Peter Robinson: Explain to me the psychological state on the ground which Americans--which I--find so difficult to understand. The population did indeed hate Saddam Hussein. Nobody doubts that. Correct? And the population at the very minimum is intensely resentful of Americans. True? True? Explain that conundrum.
Christopher Hitchens: The welcome that I've seen American and British forces get in parts of Iraq is something I want to start--I want to mention first because there are people who say that that never happened. It is commonly said by political philosophers like Maureen Dowd say that the--where were the suites[sic] and where were the flowers. Well I saw it happen with my own eyes and no one's going to tell me that I didn't. I saw it with--months after the invasion, people still lining the roads, especially in the south.
Peter Robinson: In the south?
Christopher Hitchens: Especially in the south--still lining the roads and waving and the children waving which is always the sign because if the parents don't want them to, they don't. For miles, it was like going--it was like this is the nearest I'll get to taking part in the liberation of the country, to ride in with the liberating army. I'll never forget, you know, I will not allow it not to be said that that did not happen. And in the marshes too--the marsh area of the country which was drained and burned out by poison by Saddam Hussein. Again, almost hysterical welcome and in Kurdistan in the north. So extraordinary. But remember when you said the population hating Saddam Hussein, that's true, really true. But more than anything, they feared him. They were terrified of him. These are people who not just forced to obey under terrible and believable threat but made to applaud, made to participate, made to come out and vote, made to come out and demonstrate that they loved him, made to applaud when their relatives were executed...
It's hard to argue with someone who was there--although I have very little doubt that many will do just that.
The funny thing is, I've never understood the "so, where have all the flowers (and sweets) gone?" people. Unless my memory is deceiving me, I remember seeing a fair amount of waving and cheering myself, on TV (if not flowers, exactly)--and marveling that there was anyone at all in Iraq who would be brave enough to venture out and risk doing so at the time.
But then I started to wonder about the origin of the "flowers" quote, or sometimes it was the "flowers and sweets" quote. If you Google it, you'll find countless references to it, but many of them simply assert that it was predicted by the Bush administration, without giving an attribution or link. I started to think that perhaps it was one of those urban (or media) myths that never really had happened, but that had become legendary nevertheless.
However, for what its worth, I think I've tracked down its origin. It seems to rest on a combination of two interrelated statements. One was by Dick Cheney on March 16, 2003, on "Meet the Press," and involves his prediction that US forces will be greeted as "liberators." He never mentions sweets (or even suites) or flowers. But he does mention one Kanan Makiya, a Brandeis professor who is an Iraqi ex-pat:
NARRATOR: Another assumption was that Iraqis would greet the Americans as liberators, an assurance they got from the INC.
Vice Pres. DICK CHENEY: ["Meet the Press," March 16, 2003] I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators. I've talked with a lot of Iraqis in the last several months myself, had them to the White House. The president and I have met with various groups and individuals, people who've devoted their lives from the outside to trying to change things inside Iraq, men like Kanan Makiya, who's a professor at Brandeis, but an Iraqi. He's written great books about the subject, knows the country intimately, is a part of the democratic opposition and resistance. The read we get on the people of Iraq is there's no question but what they want to get rid of Saddam Hussein, and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that...
The very next day, there was a seminar on Iraq that featured Richard Perle and said Kanan Makiya, held at the National Press Club in Washington. Here's part of the transcript:
(QUESTIONER): Vice President Cheney yesterday said that he expects that American forces will be greeted as liberators and I wonder if you could tell us if you agree with that and how you think they'll be greeted and also what you meant you said before that some Iraqi opposition groups might be in Baghdad even before American forces?
KANAN MAKIYA: I most certainly do agree with that. As I told the President on January 10th, I think they will be greeted with sweets and flowers in the first months and simply have very, very little doubts that that is the case.
So, there you have it. It seems it was Makiya who told it to the administration, back in January. It doesn't appear that anyone in the administration actually used those words, although Cheney definitely made the more general prediction about being greeted as liberators.
And indeed, as Hitchens makes clear, some did greet the Americans as liberators, although fear was rampant--fear of retaliation if, as in the first Gulf War, the Americans left prematurely, and fear of the occupation itself. Both were valid and understandable fears, I might add.
How naive was the Bush administration, and how unprepared? I don't think there's any doubt there were many miscalculations and errors. No war plan--and probably no peace plan, either--survives the first battle, right? Only with hindsight are we able to figure things out (and even then, not everything), and only the opposition is absolutely certain it could have done so very very much better.