Sunday, June 18, 2006


Flowers and sweets

Supporters of the war derided all of these predictions and projected a variety of rosy scenarios including a quick military victory, roses and sweets showered on the liberating troops, and so on.

Something about this "flowers and sweets" theme in the discourse of opponents of the invasion of Iraq annoys me. I'm sure that some people did, prior to the invasion, actually specify the form that the welcome of the Iraqi people for the invading army would take as being a shower of flowers and sweets. But this seems less important to me than the more substantive point, which was the hypothesis that the invasion would, in fact, be welcomed, even if not in the particular form of flowers and sweets.

Now, looking at Iraq since the invasion, one has to agree that AK47s and RPG rocket launchers have played a more prominent role in the response of Iraq's population to the American presence than have flowers and sweets. Nevertheless, just as the set of Iraqis who opposed the invasion and occupation is most likely not limited to those who have used AK47s and RPG rocket launchers, the set of Iraqis welcoming the invasion is, or was, presumably not limited to those who threw flowers and sweets, if any in fact did.

Now, up to this point I admit that this post could be accused of offensive clarity. Of course, I hear you say, of course they're not just talking about flowers and sweets. Rather they are saying this: supporters of the war said the invasion would be welcomed, but look! - look at the resistance that the US has met, the thousands of US troops killed. Is this the response of a people that welcomed the invasion?

But it can be significant when a certain phrase or reference is frequently used to stand in for a lot more than what it itself communicates of itself. In the semiotics of "flowers and sweets" I detect a certain evasion. It communicates the truth that many supporters of the war gave an overly rosy portrayal of what its outcome could be expected to be. But I think it evades the more specific and substantive point about the attitude of Iraq's population, in 2003 and since, towards the invasion.

I think the reason for this evasion is that there is considerable evidence that there actually was plurality or majority support within Iraq for the invasion in 2003. At any rate the polling evidence seems to show a level of ambiguity towards the invasion that was not shared by many of its Western opponents. It therefore seems significant to me that "flowers and sweets" get referred to quite a bit, but are rarely supplemented by any detailed treatment of the actual attitude of Iraq's population to the invasion.

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