Right war, botched occupation


by Michael Rubin
USA Today
November 27, 2006


As U.S. troops entered Iraq, President Bush promised freedom and democracy. But rather than establish a stable democracy, today terrorists and militias tear the country apart. After billions spent and the sacrifice of almost 3,000 U.S. troops, it is right to ask whether democracy in Iraq was not a fool’s dream.

It was not.

President Truman faced similar questions about Korea. Critics accused him of embroiling America in open-ended war, ignoring his generals and losing touch with reality. They said democracy was alien to Korean culture. Time proved them wrong. Any juxtaposition of nuclear North Korea with democratic South Korea shows the value of Truman’s policy.

Bush was right to liberate Iraq. Saddam Hussein had started two wars, used chemical weapons and subsidized suicide bombers. He claimed to have weapons of mass destruction. Sanctions had collapsed; containment failed.

With military action inevitable, the White House was right to pursue democracy. Cynical realism created Saddam. Iraqis who fled their country, meanwhile, had no problem accepting democracy; Iraq’s problem was both its rule of law and its dictator’s unaccountability.

What went wrong? Iraq’s transformation was undercut by naive faith, not in democracy but rather in diplomacy. Instead of securing Iraq’s borders, the Bush administration accepted Syrian and Iranian pledges of non-interference. They believed the canard that Iraq’s neighbors sought a stable, secure Iraq. Both countries exploited U.S. trust.

Then, to win United Nations support, the White House defined itself as an occupying power. Overnight, liberation became occupation, and Iraqi democrats became collaborators. To appease Paris and Berlin, the Bush administration justified insurgent rhetoric.

Iraqis embraced democracy, but the wrong kind. U.N. experts sold the White House an election system based on party slates rather than on districts. Any system in which politicians are more accountable to party leaders than constituents, though, encourages ethnic nationalism and sectarian populism. Add militias to the mix, and the result is explosive.

Iraqis greeted U.S. troops as liberators, but the Bush administration fumbled the occupation. Blaming democracy does not address the cause of strife; rather, it absolves policymakers for poor decisions and implementation. Too much is at stake, not only for Iraq but also for U.S. national security, if policymakers learn the wrong lessons.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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Posted on November 27, 2006, in News and politics. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. the delusion continues…so sad.

  2. Hello, Daniel, thanks for stopping on by.

  3. Aren’t you yet ashamed of glamorizing this Gadianton?

  4. This story is full of holes. Hussein did everything he did with US support and often times, with US sponsored cover-up. This war was, as Ed intimates, part of our great Gadianton agenda.

  5. Hello, ed42.

    Ashamed of Bush? Should I be ashamed of George Washington too? Bush is an honest, good man. Sorry you can’t see that.

    I am ashamed, however, of LDS who mislabel Bush as you have, clearly without understanding of what the Book of Mormon says about the pattern of Gadiantons and how to identify them. Bush et al do not qualify in the least. I’ve been meaning to make several posts regarding the nature and pattern of Gadiantons, and your comment reminds me how necessary those posts are.

  6. Hey, Curtis, please elucidate about this “great Gadianton agenda” you speak of.

  7. I quote from Gregory Djerejian who quotes Stephen Holmes as such:

    Stephen Holmes, reviewing Fukuyama’s latest in the LRB, makes some very good points:

    The neo-con argument goes roughly as follows. The US had to deploy its military might because American national security was (and is) threatened by the lack of democracy in the Arab Middle East. The premise behind this allegation is not the much debated notion that democracies seldom go to war with one another and, therefore, that democratisation makes an important contribution to the pacification of the globe. The neo-con argument is concerned not with relations among potentially warring states, but with class or group dynamics within a single state that may spill over and affect other countries adversely.

    The thesis is that democracy is the most effective antidote to the kind of Islamic radicalism that hit the US on 9/11. Its exponents begin with the premise that tyranny cannot tolerate the public expression of social resentment that its abuses naturally produce. To preserve its grip, tyranny must therefore crush even modest stirrings of opposition, repressing dissidents and critics, with unstinting ferocity if need be. In the age of globalisation, however, repressed rebellions do not simply die out. They splash uncontrollably across international borders and have violent repercussions abroad. Middle Eastern rebellions have been so savagely and effectively repressed that rebels have been driven to experiment with an indirect strategy to overthrow local tyrannies and seize power. They have travelled abroad and targeted those they see as the global sponsors of their local autocrats.

    On 9/11, this argument implies, the US woke up in the middle of someone else’s savage civil war. The World Trade Center was destroyed by foreign insurgents whose original targets lay in the Middle East. The explosive energy behind the attack came from Saudi and Egyptian rebels unable to oust local autocrats and lashing out in anger at those autocrats’ global protectors. Thus, the rationale for reaching ‘inside states’ is not the traditional need to replace hostile or un-cooperative rulers with more compliant successors (of the type Ahmed Chalabi was apparently slated to become), but rather to ‘create political conditions that would prevent terrorism’. The political condition most likely to prevent anti-American terrorism from arising, so the neo-cons allege, is democracy.

    Their reasoning at this point becomes exasperatingly obscure and confused, but their guiding assumption is clear enough: democratic government channels social frustrations inside the system instead of allowing discontent and anger to fester outside. Autocratic governments in the Arab world have shown themselves capable of retaining power by sheer coercive force, but their counter-revolutionary efforts, under contemporary conditions, have serious ‘externalities’, especially the export of murderous jihad to the West. America’s security challenge is to shut down this export industry. To do so, the US must find a way to democratise the Middle East.

    This convoluted and debatable argument played only a marginal role in the administration’s decision to invade Iraq. It plays a more substantial role in the current presentation of its ‘mission’ in Iraq, however. It is also a central focus of Fukuyama’s book. So how should we evaluate the idea? Is a democratic deficit in the Middle East the principal cause of anti-Western jihadism? And is democratisation a plausible strategy for preventing the export of political violence?

    The first thing to say is that fighting terror by promoting democracy makes little sense as a justification of the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. Although the lack of democracy in Saudi Arabia and Egypt may indirectly fuel anti-Western jihad, in Iraq it has never done so. In non-democratic countries with which the US is allied (such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt), anti-regime violence naturally escalates or swerves into anti-American violence. The idea that a lack of democracy in countries overtly hostile to the US (such as Saddam’s Iraq or contemporary Iran) will have such an effect is logically implausible and unsupported by historical evidence.

    To argue that creating democracy in Iraq will help defeat Islamic terrorism is to bank on a multi-stage process by which democracy, once established in Iraq, will spread to Egypt, Saudi Arabia etc by force of its inspiring example. Only then, after neighbouring dominoes (including governments allied with the US) begin to fall, would the democratisation of Iraq contribute seriously to draining the terrorists’ proverbial recruitment pool. Of course, such political revolutions, in the unlikely event that they actually erupted, would be wholly impossible to control or steer. That is reason enough to doubt that Cheney or Rumsfeld, for example, ever took seriously this frivolous bit of neo-con futurology.

    The idea of a democratic cure for terrorism assumes that there are two separate causes of anti-American jihad: Middle Eastern autocracy, and unprincipled or opportunistic American backing for it. Anti-American jihad would subside, the theory implies, if either condition could be eliminated. Thus, the neo-con rationale for regime change in the Middle East seemingly justifies something much less radical, and presumably less difficult, than creating stable multiparty democracy in Mesopotamia: the gradual withdrawal of American support from the region’s corrupt oligarchies and oppressive autocracies. Putting daylight between the US and abusive Middle Eastern regimes should be enough to insulate America from the violent backlash such tyrannies produce.

    Unfortunately, this pathway is blocked. The US cannot simply disengage from a region in which so many of its vital interests, including the steady flow of oil and the tracking down of terrorists, are at stake. Yet the paradox remains. From the impossibility of disengaging and the perils of engaging with autocrats, the neo-cons conclude that American interests require engagement with a democratic Middle East. The logic sounds impeccable at first. But it is based on the unfounded assumption that periodically elected governments in the region will necessarily be stable, moderate and legitimate, not to mention pro-American.

    An even more fundamental argument against fighting terrorism by promoting democracy, however, is that no one in the US government has any idea how to promote democracy. Fukuyama accuses the neo-cons of chatting offhandedly about democratisation while failing to study or even leaf through the ‘huge academic and practitioner-based literature on democratic transitions’. Their lack of serious attention to the subject had an astonishing justification: ‘There was a tendency among promoters of the war to believe that democracy was a default condition to which societies would revert once liberated from dictators.’ Democracy obviously has many social, economic, cultural and psychological preconditions, but those who thought America had a mission to democratise Iraq gave no thought to them, much less to helping create them. For their delicate task of social engineering, the only instrument they thought to bring along was a wrecking ball.

    One might have thought that this ‘remove the lid and out leaps democracy’ approach was too preposterous ever to have been taken seriously. But it is the position that Fukuyama, with some evidence, attributes to neo-cons in and around the administration. They assumed, he writes, that the only necessary precondition for the emergence and consolidation of democracy is the ‘amorphous longing for freedom’ which President Bush, that penetrating student of human nature, detects in ‘every mind and every soul’. Their sociology of democracy boils down to the universal and eternal human desire not to be oppressed. If this were democracy’s only precondition, then Iraq would have no trouble making a speedy transition from clan-based savagery and untrammelled despotism to civilised self-restraint and collective self-rule: sceptics who harped on the difficulty of creating a government that would be both coherent and representative in a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian and tribally fragmented country, simply failed to appreciate the love of freedom in every human heart.

    Neo-cons, Fukuyama implies, seldom do the hard work required to learn about the evolving political and social dynamics of specific societies. Instead, they over-personalise any ‘regime’ that they dream of destabilising, identifying it with a single reprehensible ruler who can, in principle, be taken out with a single airstrike. But here again they walk into a serious self-contradiction. One of their principal claims is that a bad regime will have long-lasting negative effects on the society it abuses. A cruel autocracy puts down ‘social roots’ and reshapes ‘informal habits’. Thus, ‘Saddam Hussein’s tyranny bred passivity and fatalism – not to mention vices of cruelty and violence.’ It is very likely, in other words, that Saddam unfitted the Iraqi people for democracy, for a time at least. This is a logical implication of the neo-cons’ theory of ‘regimes’, but not one they considered, presumably because it would have knocked the legs from under their idealistic case for war…

    …The proposal to pull Mesopotamia into the modern world, he says, is based on a facile optimism reminiscent of 1960s liberalism and publicly rebutted by the original neo-cons. Progressive dreams are bound to be dashed on the hard realities of social habit. One of the fundamental goals of neo-conservatism, in its formative period, was to show that ‘efforts to seek social justice’ invariably leave societies ‘worse off than before’. They were especially ‘focused on the corroding effects of welfare on the character of the poor’. All distribution from the rich to the poor and from whites to blacks is inevitably counterproductive. Progressive attempts to reduce poverty and inequality, although well-intentioned, have ‘disrupted organic social relations’, such as residential segregation, triggering a violent backlash and failing to lift up the downtrodden. According to the neo-cons, it is wiser to concentrate on the symptoms, using police power and incarceration to discourage violent behaviour and protect civilised values.

    The neo-cons, according to Fukuyama, never explored the relevance of such warnings to US foreign policy. Proponents of the Iraq war, very much like old-style liberal advocates of welfare, ‘sought worthy ends but undermined themselves by failing to recognise the limits of political voluntarism’. Their failure in Iraq was just as predictable as the failure of American liberals to improve the lives of poor American blacks. In short, the plans of today’s idealistic hawks for creating Iraqi democracy show how utterly they have betrayed the neo-con legacy. Perhaps the deepest irony is that their enthusiasm for destroying the status quo and overthrowing the powers that be (without giving much thought to how to replace them) recalls the institution-bashing antics of 1960s student radicals more than the counter-revolutionary posture of the founding fathers of neo-conservatism. [my emphasis]

    I’ve posted extensive excerpts, but you should read the whole thing, as they say. I’ll note too, I post this on a day when Dick Cheney, more or less hat in hand, is in Saudi Arabia looking for any assistance the Kingdom can render to stabilize Iraq and counter Iranian and Syrian influence in Lebanon (still foolishly without engaging in direct dialogue with them). Doubtless the ‘more rubble, less trouble’ crowd, and the feverish ‘end all evil’ brigades at AEI will view this as another sign of American weakness. And, to an extent, they will be right. But their fanciful, utopic remedies are no real alternative, of course. But this won’t stop them from clamorously hollering and complaining and writing their breathless little op-eds. This won’t stop them from having dim cable anchors and radio talk show hosts ask them stupid questions while credulously lapping up their half-cocked answers. In short, the moronic inferno will proceed on in all its glory. Would that this only constitute but burlesque farce and cheap entertainment, save that some of these personages still (amazingly) wield not insignificant influence in the Beltway.

    And later from Glenn Greenwald:

    Seeking input from the neocons on how to solve the Iraq disaster would be like consulting the serial arsonist who started a deadly, raging fire on how to extinguish it. That actually might make sense if the arsonist were repentant and wanted to help reverse what he unleashed. But if the arsonist were proud of the fire he started and actually wanted to see it rage forever, even more strongly — and, worse, if he were intent on starting whole new fires just like the one destroying everything and everyone in its path– it would be the height of irrationality for those wanting to extinguish the fire to listen to what he has to say.

    The American Enterprise Institute is a disgrace to America and the world. That these people are still listened to does not speak well of their listeners.

  8. michael, it is a lie to say Bush lie. If that is what you are claiming, you are guilty of bearing false witness akin to the false accusation of non-LDS Christians who claim LDS are not Christian. Are you saying Bush lied?

  9. I know, Daniel, the liberal & peacenik in you see neocons as bogeyman and Jihadists as poor, misunderstood victims of American policy. I get that, Daniel, thanks for sharing.

  10. And perhaps you are guilty of worshiping false gods (Bush)?

    Are you claiming that Bush has NEVER lied?

  11. The Gadianton agenda takes a little bit of seeing things in a different light. By BoM definition, secret combinations are any group really that seeks gain and the glory of the world, at the expense of life. That definition may need some refining, but I think it fairly well covers the various forms of secret combinations we see in the BoM… Mafia like groups, governments, guerilla fighters etc. One of the bad manifestations of S.C.s in the BoM was the one in Helaman where the entire government is taken over and ever member of society was a card carrying gadiantonite. This is what I believe we have today. A perfect example of that is what we did to Guatemala in the 1950’s. We overthrew a democratically government there and supported a dictatorship in its place. We did this so that the United Fruit Co. (which lobbied heavily for this overthrow) could continue to make huge profits in a nation where they were about to be forced to be more honest. They had been paying property taxes on a fraction of the true value of their land and when they were forced to see some of that land to the government at the taxed value, they claimed the land was worth about 30 times more. The new government killed its people to the tune of at least 70 thousand over the next few decades to keep them oppressed and the United Fruit Co. kept their profits.
    The above was a strikingly perfect example of how our secret combination works in the world. There are many good books out there to further elaborate on this, one is, “Confessions of an Economic Hitman.”
    Another is Chomsky’s, “Deterring Democracy.”
    Moroni talks of a secret combination in the latter days that will seek to overthrow the freedom of all nations. The S.C. we support in this country is seeking just that. The Iraq war is no different.

  12. The enemy we all face, LDS Patriot, is globalism. Our founding fathers spoke out against the tendency of government to concentrate power in an overbearing federal system. Now, thanks to the new technologies that make it more possible, many men ssek to create global empires.That dirve for global domination is what drives U.S. foreign policy. Because it is cloaked in the guise of patriotic nationalism, many have been blind to the true nature of the situation. Many don’t see this neo-fascism for what it is because it disguises itself as anti-fascism.

  13. Amen Michael.

  14. Dick Cheney Traitor, Former Director of the CFR

    Bush’s right-hand man is a globalist. Hey LDS Patriot if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and poops like a duck, what is it?


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