Mea Culpa

Back in May of last year I wrote a long and largely pretentious attempt to analyse the progress of the democratic revolution in Iraq, which I’m certainly not suggesting you re-visit.

But towards the end of it I managed to get to the issue at hand – that a turning point was being reached and that there was a danger the Bush administration might fall short of the stated aim of bringing about a democratic polity in Iraq.

To save you wading from the rest of it, here is what I wrote: Clearly there are strains within the American elite over this issue and once again the remains of the ‘left’ have failed to realise what is the real nature of that split. From reading the American press, there are those, most usually identified with Colin Powell, the State Department and the CIA and including both Republican and Democratic figures, who would prefer to halt the revolution and cut some sort of a deal to satisfy the counter-revolutionaries. By giving power to religious leaders, by an element of re-Ba’athification, they appear to believe that Iraq can be ‘pacified’ and then their troops can get the hell out of Iraq and hope that the country will join the ranks of ‘stable regimes’ in the Middle East.

Iraq will be one of those oft-cited ‘moderate Muslim states’ and perhaps the biggest regret such strategists have is that there is not a popular former monarch in Iraq that could be brought back to power.

On the other side stand the revolutionaries who (for various reasons it is worth investigating at some stage) are widely but wrongly perceived as being the reactionaries. For this school there should be no-compromise with the counter-revolutionaries and the US should take the necessary steps towards the transition to democracy, crushing the counter-revolutionaries and forging ahead towards free elections, while giving full backing to pro-democracy forces.

Having noted that the central issue remained that “the Iraqi people have not yet spoken” and guessed at some possible scenerios for a compromise that would have allowed an exit strategy while leaving a relatively stable but non-democratic Iraq without the trouble (and instability) involved in trying to organise elections, I concluded:

But it should be recognised now that such a compromise decision would leave us with a liberation of the Soviet type. The Coalition forces will have removed a fascist dictator and replaced him with something slightly better but not democracy.

Sadly, and I hope I am proved wrong, at the moment all the indications suggest this compromise route is the most likely outcome, at least from the American side.

Obviously, as events have subsequently revealed, I was proved wrong. It does not dilute that admission to point out that I was by no means the only person who around that time was thinking that the Bush administration was pulling away from the radical agenda of democratisation.

As Stephen F. Hayes points out in the latest Weekly Standard:

ON JUNE 28, 2004, a front-page article by Washington Post correspondent Robin Wright declared the Bush Doctrine dead, or at least on life-support. “The occupation of Iraq has increasingly undermined, and in some cases discredited, the core tenets of President Bush’s foreign policy,” she wrote, sourcing “a wide range of Republican and Democratic analysts and U.S. officials.” The article was the culmination of months of media claims that the Bush administration had decided to abandon, or at least scale back, its bold foreign policy agenda.

For example, a week before, New Republic senior editor Lawrence Kaplan had asserted that we were entering a “Springtime for Realism.” Dick Cheney was getting advice from Henry Kissinger. Condi Rice was channeling her mentor, Brent Scowcroft. Gary Hart, then advising John Kerry’s presidential campaign, mocked the idea of democracy in the Arab world. “The extravagance, not to say arrogance, of this epic undertaking is sufficiently breathtaking in its hubris to make Woodrow Wilson blush,” he said. Other Kerry advisers scorned efforts to democratize Iraq as “too heroic” and dismissed Bush’s objectives as “sloppy neo-Wilsonianism.” “It appears nearly everyone in Washington is a realist now,” Kaplan concluded.

But someone forgot to tell George W. Bush.

….Six months ago, foreign policy experts were dancing on the grave of the Bush Doctrine. Since then we’ve seen successful elections in Afghanistan, Ukraine, the Palestinian Authority, and Iraq, a renewal of the Mideast peace process–and, of course, the reelection of George W. Bush over his neorealist rival.

There is a lesson from this – don’t presume that when Bush makes speeches about spreading freedom and democracy that he is just enjoying the rhetoric.

Large sections of the western left may not have been able to learn from the past six months but I suspect the point has been taken in places like Damascus, Tehran and Beirut.