[ . . . ] the proclaimed Bush policy was not mere deployment of brute force, torture, bombs and swagger as a response to the civil war within Islam. It was ostensibly to create a beach-head for modernity and democracy in Iraq. That, at least, was the rationale I signed onto. Now, maybe in retrospect, the idea of a beach-head for democracy was always just a cover for Rumsfeld and Cheney to try to terrify a bunch of "barbarians" with brute force. [ . . . ] But, for all Cheney's and Rumsfeld's flaws, they are at least proposing something serious, however ineptly carried out.Anonymous Liberal responds:
Perhaps Sullivan is refering to the original "plan" of reshaping the Middle East by force, one country at a time, of establishing Iraq as a "beachhead for democracy" in the region. Well, I think the last three years have demonstrated how profoundly unserious that plan was. The neocon plan was certainly far-reaching and ambitious. I'll give it that. But it was never very well thought out. It was, from a logistical standpoint, totally unrealistic, and it was built upon a number of very dubious assumptions about the "root causes" of Islamic terrorism, most notably that lack of democracy is the primary problem.It seems like both sides are missing something here. Sullivan, originally a supporter of the war, seems now to recognize the thing that every conservative needs to understand -- that all the talk about spreading democracy was a bunch of platitudinous garbage designed to give cover to the administration's agenda. What he misses, or at least does not mention, is how incredibly naive one would have to have been to buy that rhetoric from these men in the first place.
Sullivan, like Christopher Hitchens and many other pro-Iraqi and pro-war individuals, became mouthpieces for the administration simply because they did something that opponents of the war did not do: They allowed themselves to believe the hype. I had discussions with people who were vehemently pro-war, even knowing the WMD story was bunk, because all they could see was that Saddam needed to go . . . and they simply couldn't believe that what would follow could be worse, for Iraqis or for the world.
Of course, Saddam did need to go. The problem is, Iraq needed to be rebuilt by Iraqis, in its own way. Everything the administration did from the moment the regime toppled was designed to prevent that from happening.
And that's where we get to what Anonymous Liberal is missing, in my opinion:
Iraq could have worked. Certainly, nothing about the way things have gone in Iraq serves to disprove the ideas that caused Sullivan and his ilk to "sign on" to the Iraq adventure . . . Because everything that the neocons have done has been so fundamentally inconsistent with our stated goal in Iraq, that goal never had a chance. It was sabotaged from the start by the brutes, who had their own agenda all along.
Ask yourself this:
If we had let the Iraqis reconstitute their own government, rebuild their own cities -- if we had let them feel sovereign from the start, rather than patronizing them and setting terms for how they were to go about everything -- what would Iraq look like today?
A nation of people who had suffered so long under Saddam, who really were given the opportunity to know America as a liberator, not an occupier . . . how would that nation feel about us today?
If America had marched into the heart of the Arab world, deposed a hated tyrant, and then stood aside so that the civil institutions could rebuild their society, how would the rest of the Arab street have responded?
This is the tragedy of Iraq -- that thanks to the greed and opportunism of this aggregation of slime currently occupying the White House (and I mean that in the nicest possible way), we will never know. Because they have precluded such an outcome in pursuit of their own strategic ends, to channel money and influence to their corporate sponsors, to make Iraq not a free and independent nation but a client state, and a market to be exploited.
Can we salvage Iraq? Can we undo the damage the administration has wrought, turn back the clock and make ourselves liberators and friends? Probably not. At some point, probably a ways behind us now, that bridge was crossed and burned. We have radicalized the society anew, and ensured that this blood feud will go on for another generation, at least.
Having watched this tragedy unfold, I have to say that under other circumstances, with a different set of decision-makers in place, done in a more honest fashion, it could have worked.
Because at the end of the day, democracy is the answer. It is feeling disempowered and afraid that radicalizes a society, in much the same way that 9/11 and the fearmongers who have used it politically have radicalized ours. Without the threat of Western domination and empire, the oppressive brutes propped up by foreign powers to cater to foreign interests, the radical militant strain of Islam would be far less attractive to the Muslim world, just as without the threat of Muslim terrorism, no substantial portion of Americans would have thought it was a good idea to re-elect George W. Bush.
A culture with the freedoms and responsibilities of self-governance is simply too busy, too occupied in its own affairs, to go off in search of enemies. When the focus of our existence, on the other hand, becomes perpetual fear of or domination by some other power, lashing out against that power is inevitable. So we see reflexive flailing by Israel. By Hezbollah. By Iraqis. By Americans. Giving people a say in their own governance is the answer on all counts, and if doing so requires kicking over a dictator or two, so be it.
But it must be done with an eye toward giving the power to the liberated. Avarice and empire have no place in the post-terror world. Real democracy is the way.
The problem is . . . how do you go out there and tell voters, "I'm gonna do what they say they're doing -- spread democracy, end tyranny, liberate the oppressed -- but for real" . . . ? Americans are certainly fed up with the administration and the way it's conducted the war, but are they ready to accept the idea that it's been a lie from beginning to end?
The populace certainly wasn't going to take that well in 2004. Now, in 2006, we are hearing some rumblings of it. Perhaps by 2012 or so it will be the conventional wisdom. But when Sullivan demands it now, he demands too much. The message machine still stands behind the President and his terrible policies, and that means that calling the big lie a lie is still a losing proposition.
Anyway. Just a thought.