This was originally written for an American audience, but no one is publishing it here. Wouldn't it be ironic if free speech and the open exchange of ideas is made possible through Pravda and the Internet as the present Bush administration closes ranks and instills fear in the populace. Colin Powell spoke of the Pottery Barn rule, "You break it, you own it," with regard to Iraq, and this is what that has inspired.
The “My Lawn Corollary” to the Pottery Barn axiom basically says “this is my lawn, I mow it or don't mow, weed it or don't weed, fertilize it or don't fertilize according to my own whims. Until you wrest it from my cold dead hands, mow it, weed it and fertilize it yourself, it is mine and I will do with it what I damn well please, thank you very much.”
I come upon this wisdom not by studying international foreign relations, warfare or political science, but from spending the last three hours mowing, weeding and fertilizing my lawn. I am attempting to share it with others (specifically Americans) because I don't think we are thinking as individuals when it comes to analyzing what our country is doing.
Think for a moment about your lawn (or your yard, your garden, your front porch, the hallway in front of your apartment) or anything else for that matter that you are responsible for (for which you are responsible). How does it feel to have someone else come up to you and say, “You know what you should really be doing is using Weed N' Feed and that will clear up those brown spots and then your lawn would look a lot better and you'd be happier and listen to me because I'm smarter than you.” My first reaction would be, “If you know how to take care of my lawn, then get your happy butt over here behind this lawnmower and mow it yourself.”
Now take that sentiment and pretend you are an ordinary Iraqi, who two years ago was living according to the rules of a crummy government. He may not have been happy, but he was surviving. He probably complained about his government, but then who doesn’t. Then from around the world comes the voice of a nosy, know-it-all neighbor. “What you really need is to get rid of those weeds and spread some of this democracy around and you’ll have peace and freedom and listen to me I’m smarter than you.”
OK, whatever, if it happens, it happens, there’s not a whole lot I, as a lowly Iraqi struggling to make ends meet under a crummy government, can do. There are words, proclamations, warnings, and then a lot of shooting. My government is gone and now I’ve got a bunch of foreigners parading around telling me how to run my schools and treat my wife and raise my kids, and I still don’t have a good job, and now it don’t even feel like my lawn anymore. Multiply that by a couple million and you got about a couple million people that want to shoot every foreigner they see. And, you know what, I don’t blame them.
We told them we were afraid of their government. You had weapons of mass destruction. You had dealings with terrorists. You were a threat to your neighbors. Maybe, maybe not.
Regardless, that government is gone. The only way an Iraqi is going to kill an American is if we keep 100,000 Americans in Iraq. Would it be nice if Iraqis had nice green lawns like we do? Maybe, maybe not. At this point, though, it’s none of our business. Everybody and their brother can say we can’t just cut and run, but the truth is if we don’t then we’re just a bunch of nosy neighbors who think we can take care of their lawn better than they can, and it doesn’t matter if we’re right they might just make a mess of the lawn just to spite us. I’ve heard of neighbors like that.
After all, why should they trust us? We are going to leave Iraq eventually. There is no doubt about that. Whether it’s June 30th 2004 or June 30th 2054 when the oil runs out, the Americans will eventually leave. Iraqi children and grandchildren will still be in Iraq, either living on the well-invested subsidies of petrodollars or scrambling around in the dusty desert. Americans will be gone, that is certain. Who knows, America as we know it may gone by 2054. Even Rome lost its empire.
Some Englishman once said, “All it takes to have a great lawn is to plant some grass and mow it for 200 years.” I don’t remember who he was, if he was a gardener or a politician, but I was thinking about that as I mowed my lawn this morning. America is just Britain’s lawn. We may think we’ve declared our independence and thumbed our nose at monarchy and taxation without representation and all that good stuff. Yet, if you took a good long look at us, you just might realize we’ve been had. Are you free? Do you breathe the sweet air of liberty? Do your taxes pay a representative representing your interests in a distant house of government? Or do you have to pay that extra tax to get representation, what they call “campaign contributions.” It appears that extra tax is where the value is because this wonderful representative democracy thing we’re so crazy about exporting hasn't lived up to the advertising right here at home.
Let's see what George has to say about this:
“At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas of which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it... Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the high-brow periodicals.” - George Orwell (what George did you think I was talking about?), 1945, from the introduction to “Animal Farm.”
Or, to put it more bluntly:
“To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.” - George Orwell
No one in this country is making that struggle. Because if they were they would see that America does not represent American values anymore, not as they were originally conceived. Indeed, American values as they were originally conceived probably didn’t survive the trip from Thomas Jefferson’s pen to the parchment now sitting under glass in our capitol. If they did, they didn’t survive Hamilton or the Jay Treaty or the War of 1812 or the Mexican War, or the Civil War or the Spanish American War or the defeat of the League of Nations or the internment of Japanese or Vietnam or the funding of Contras or Cops or 9/11/01 or The Patriot Act. Because nobody seems to recognize we are living in a police state where people are afraid to tell the emperor he has no clothes, or better yet, to tell the empire I want my money back. This is not the land of the free, this is the land of a bunch of sheep corralled by mortgages and taxes and the fear of what their neighbors think. The problem is that it is so close to being the land of the free we just can’t see the difference.
Given the choice, would you give $100,000 dollars to your school so your kids would be better taken care of, or $100,000 to an army (or army contractor) to go build a school for someone half a world away who really would rather build their own school. Forget what the “right” answer is. Forget ideology, forget party politics. Admit it, deep in your heart, you care more about your children than Iraqi children. So, why are we giving our money to them!? And, the truly pathetic thing is, it’s not even them that are getting the money. It’s the contractors (whoever they are can be up to you to figure out) who are getting the money. The Iraqi children are getting crummy schools they don’t want. Why are we doing this? After all, it’s their lawn! Yes, we’ve screwed it up, but are we really trying to make it better or are we just camping out on it until we can figure out how to make more money out of it. Let’s face it, Iraq is not a threat to us. It might not have ever been. We are not fighting a war on terror, we are creating more terrorists. We are not spreading democracy, we're pissing off a lot of people who now associate democracy with American guns. We've parked our Hummer on someone else's lawn because we could and now we're trying to figure out a way to get off without looking like a bunch of jerks. Well, let me tell you, the only way to do it is to say, “Sorry, I’ve been a real jerk. I'll pay you to help fix the lawn, but it appears if I stick around here to try to fix it with you, you are going to shoot me. So, here’s one more promise and I’ll be going now.” Then we'd better live up to that promise or we are more hypocritical than I thought.
People will say this is not a viable alternative. They'll posit all sorts of fancy opinions and talk about our prestige and America's responsibility as the Sole Superpower. Well, let 'em. They can talk about it for a year or ten years or until 2054. It won’t make a lick of difference because as long as there are Americans in Iraq there will be Iraqis trying to kill them. If you want to be the person to tell an 18-year old kid from Des Moines to walk down the street of Falluja and look for “insurgents” you go ahead. I don’t want any part of that. It's not my lawn.