Friday, June 17, 2005

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.

16 Comments:

At 12:34 PM, June 17, 2005, Anonymous Mark Poling said...

I've given up on polls and other supposedly unbiased analyses when I start wondering how things are going. What I do instead is look at who is doing what.

For instance, suicide bombers keep blowing up people standing in line to become policemen.

Just think about that. One side is suicidally desparate. One side is committed enough to a new Iraq to stannd in line and risk messy annhialation.

One side has numbers (and guts) working for it. One side has terror working for it.

Which side is winning? Which side is losing?

 
At 12:53 PM, June 17, 2005, Blogger Tom Grey said...

Neo, the point I'm making on Michael's site is against the "not enough troops" meme.

I claim we DO have enough to win the war to oust Saddam, but it's not possible to have enough to bring democracy & freedom & responsibility to the Iraqi people -- ONLY the Iraqis can do that.

And Mark's great point indicates the Iraqis are figuring that out, too.

 
At 4:23 PM, June 17, 2005, Blogger Michael B said...

"It's hard to argue with someone who was there--although I have very little doubt that many will do just that."

And perhaps such would not be worth noting excepting for the fact that this type of obduracy - and obduracy is precisely what it is - absolutely typifies so much of what the Left and even the MSM attempts to pass off as "dialog." Rhetorically it represents a type of ratcheting effect - or affect - within the overall social/political debate, "debate" being an generous term indeed in this context since the agitprop/rhetoric and praxis more generally perpetually employed by the Left demonstrates they're operating within the framework of an ideological war, not within a framework where they're seeking honest, transparent exchanges within a broadly based social/political debate.

 
At 4:43 PM, June 17, 2005, Anonymous Skookumchuk said...

Hitchens: It is commonly said by political philosophers like Maureen Dowd . . .

Priceless.

 
At 6:13 PM, June 17, 2005, Anonymous Paul said...

Hitchens has big cojones! I like the man as a writer and as a human being.

 
At 7:44 PM, June 17, 2005, Blogger Ho Chi Minh said...

To Michael B.,

Your response above to Neo-neocon's quote:

"It's hard to argue with someone who was there--although I have very little doubt that many will do just that.",

a rant about leftist "obduracy", attempting to pass off as "dialog" and "debate" etc. etc. "demonstrates they're operating within the framework of an ideological war", "not in a framework" of "honest, transparent debate", is hypocritical coming from a guy like you.


Read your response to a April 25 Neo-neocon blog, "A Mind Is A Difficult Thing To Change", where a May 2nd post by a Mr. Barnes shares the experiences of two individuals, David Elliot and Daniel Ellsberg, "who were there", in this case Vietnam. Read first how you belittled Barnes at length for his "cut-and-paste" presentation from their books, of what I thought at least was some pretty interesting material "from two people who were there". That was inspiring (not).

Then read how you go off on a right- wing tirade, dis-ing a point of view you do not share. While you do offer some links to prove your point (Pentagon Papers), you do not offer the links from the same source that would lend credence to Elliot's and Ellsberg's premise, and there's a slew of them.

As for your commitment to honest, transparent debate, I tried having an intelligent exchange of information with you on Neo-neocon's "Dr. Sanity On Terrorists..." blog (if anyone's interested, it's the last postings on the list), and never got answers to any of my legitimate questions, only insults and an arrogant posturing.

And in hypocritical fashion, as I never got a reply from you on the validity of Hoang Van Chi's methods of date collecting, extra-polating Land Reform atrocities over all of "North" Vietnam from his experience in one village, you question the validity of David Elliot for doing the same thing, in his case extra-polating American and "South" Vietnamese atrocities from his observations in one village of the Mekong Delta over all of "South" Vietnam.

You have no ideological agenda? Who's obdurate here?

You know, I was going to apologise for allowing your arrogant, condescending attitude to make me lose it and insult you (although I was holding back :-) But now I'm glad I didn't apologise, for two reasons:

1) Because it demonstrated in miniature the cause and effect nature of international affairs and evolution of conflicts I tried explaining to you, but you refused to even consider. That is, you pissed me off, then I lashed out. Actions illicit a response. If we're not friendly and fair to others their response, whatever it is, should be viewed in the context of a backlash. Not rocket-science really, but beyond comprehension to a right-wing ideologe like yourself.

2) Because you do have your head up your ass.

Having said that, let's all try to have a friendly, intelligent debate
;-)

 
At 6:06 AM, June 18, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm hoping Ho chi minh will one day soon realize that the magic bus of peace, love and understanding ran out of gas on 9/11/01. So did the spiked kool-aid.

 
At 10:04 AM, June 18, 2005, Blogger Brad said...

"illicit a response" ??

some people just have a way with words, and other people, well, don't have way
SM

 
At 10:24 AM, June 18, 2005, Anonymous R Zacek said...

Brad: in the words of Leo Gorcey, "I resemble that remark!"

 
At 3:59 PM, June 18, 2005, Blogger Michael B said...

Pol Pot - aka Ho,

I'm strongly suspecting you're the love child of Pol Pot and MoDo. Given the apoplectic apologias emanating from her pen, that's a less unlikely pair than I'd otherwise like to imagine. Or from Freud's view, you may have named yourself Ho, but your Pol Pot super ego is dominant, big time; you're also showing signs of running scared btw.

Don't entirely misunderstand (your lack of comprehension in the other thread is still pronounced), you do bring enough individual facts - facticity - to your effusions such that it would be interesting debating you if it weren't for your MoDo spew, your refractive and rambling prolixity and your Khmer Rouge rhetorical style more generally. But given the quantity of those qualities in your posts, responding would be a fruitless endeavor.

 
At 4:01 PM, June 18, 2005, Blogger Michael B said...

Do try to relax and enjoy the weekend Mr. Pot.

 
At 4:53 PM, June 18, 2005, Blogger Ho Chi Minh said...

Will do, Adolph.

As the English would say: "What a bunch of Wanker's".

P.S.: Who's MoDo?

 
At 5:12 PM, June 18, 2005, Blogger Ho Chi Minh said...

To "anonymous" and Brad above (and I hope our good friend Michael is watching):

Allow me to put your two posts together:

.."the magic bus of peace, love and understanding ran out of gas on 9/11/01..."

.."illicit a response" ??

Thanks to you both for proving my point. We got hit, and we responded. Arab's have been getting hit, from us anyway, for 50 years. Now why wouldn't they respond?

Tell me guys, why is this most fundamental aspect of human nature so difficult for you to understand?
Is it because you are unaware of what we've been doing over there for the past half century?

I hope so, and it's not merely because you're obdurate.

 
At 9:25 PM, June 19, 2005, Blogger David said...

I had a link up to an old Al-Jazeera article that said troops were literally greeted with flowers, but the link's gone rotten. Is Pravda the only news site with articles that stay put?

 
At 1:57 AM, March 22, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I too, was turning protectionist and accepting that war had to be done, but after HUNDREDS of daily news stories proving they were lying to us, about everything, I'm back where I belonged, a blue & true Democrat.

THIS WAR IS EVIL AND NEEDS STOPPED, how nice of Bush to say yesterday that ANOTHER President not him, has to decide when to end it, what a coward. Thinks that'll protect his image for the history books, it only solidifies him ast the most mentally unstable of all our President's and we've had some doozies.

 
At 1:33 PM, April 04, 2006, Anonymous open365dayz said...

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