Iraq War Anniversary
The NR issue that WF Buckley missed
Yeah... I guess that time flies when you're also having bad time. Very soon GWII could end up being longer than WWII. To mark the anniversary I decided to re-examine the comments I made during an adress before the Middle East Council in Washington on January 2003 a few weeks before the start of the war
Following the end of the first Gulf War and the Madrid Peace Conference, there were high expectations in Washington that a new American-led order would be established in the Middle East. The Madrid Peace Conference and the ensuing Oslo peace process were supposed to lay the foundations for a New Middle East: Peace between Israel and a Palestinian state. And the integration of the region into the global economy.My last sentence was: "The American Empire will prove to be one more intellectual fad that was oversold. And then over-run by events." [Like much of what has been happening in the last three years]
Ten years later and it's the same old Middle East. There is a President Bush. There is an Assad. (He does surf the Internet. So perhaps globalization did have some effect.) The ayatollahs are still around. And so are the Hashemittes. And the Saudis. The military is still in charge in Egypt. And there is still violence in the Holy Land. And there are Sharon and Arafat -- older, heavier, ailing. But just like in Lebanon 20 years ago, they are ready for another gunfight.[Well, one is now dead and the other is almost dead, but we've Hamas in power, we're starting to miss Yasser]
And, of course, there is Saddam. [He's still around and that reminds me: aren't we looking now for a "strong leader" to impose some order in Iraq? Well?]Sounds depressing. But welcome to the Middle East that has proven to be -- and will prove to be once again -- a grave-yard of great expectations for outside powers, as well as regional players.
Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire they have all been trying again and again to make and remake the Middle East. And at the end, in the words of the Rolling Stones, they can't get no satisfaction! [Sorry, W.]
Whether it was Shimon Peres's mirage of a New Middle East -- or Ariel Sharon's fantasy of a New Order in the region after the Lebanon War. Or consider the promise of Nasserism and the ambition of Khomeinism. Recall how the Six Day War or the 1973 War... and then the Egyptian-Israeli peace accord... were supposed to change everything. And indeed, that euphoric mood in Washington following the first Gulf War, and the Madrid Peace Conference.
As historian L. Carl Brown proposed, the post-Ottoman Middle East can be compared to a Kaleidoscope. Everything is related to everything else. There are no clear boundaries between local, regional and international issues. A powerful outsider enters the picture. And it hopes to impose its agenda. But that only produces counter-efforts by unsatisfied players to form opposing regional alliances and secure the support of other local and international powers. The outside power tilts the Middle East kaleidoscope. But the many tiny pieces of colored glass move to form a new configuration that looks very different from what it expected.
On the top of the list of unfulfilled expectations was the British imperial project in the Middle East in the early 20th century. Driven by strategic interests, the smell of oil, and religious sentiments, the English-speaking people invaded the Middle East and they tried to establish a new and stable order.
And now in the early 21st century we seem to be on the eve of an hegemonic American undertaking in the region. The Anglo-Americans are returning to try to set up another order, a new and stable order in the Middle East.
It seems that one can say about the imperial designs of great powers in the Middle East what George Bernard Shaw once said about second marriage: That is was the triumph of hope over experience.
In the old movie, the British created Iraq. They put the Hashemittes and the Saudis in power. Maintained influence in Egypt. They tried to end this or that cycle of violence between Arabs and Jews in the Holy Land. We know how that movie ended. To put it in economic terms, the costs of the British Empire in the Middle East were higher than the expected benefits. Resistance from regional players, including terrorism, challenges from global powers. Including the U.S. ally, economic decline and opposition at home led eventually to a long and painful withdrawal of Britain from the region, culminating in the 1956 Suez debacle.
This time the name of the movie is the American Unilateral Moment in the Middle East. But we have a feeling that we've seen that movie before. Different actors. But a similar script: Recreating Iraq. Navigating between the Saudis and the Hashemittes. Preserving influence in Egypt. Bringing an end to another cycle of Arab-Jewish violence. Some in Washington are even adding a Wilsonian soundtrack to the old new order script: An Iraqi federation of Arab Sunni and Shiites and Kurds based on Western and liberal principles. Trickle-down democracy, secularism, pro-Americanism that would transform the entire Arab World, and help bring peace between Israel and Palestine. More
From a FOXNEWS.Com commentary Remove Saddam, Disarm Iraq, Then Get Out I published on April 8, 2003, while the war was still going on:
Sure, we'll all be delighted if Iraq, or for that matter, Tajikistan, Angola, and yes, China, would be transformed into American-style democracies. We certainly could encourage that process by helping those and other countries integrate into the global economy and trade with the United States and other countries-a process that often brings about the rise of a liberal and pro-democracy professional middle class. Supporting the expansion of "civil societies" in those countries is also an important goal. But this is best advanced by private groups and individuals and not the U.S. government.
Instead of attempting to export democracy through the use of military force, the Bush administration should focus only on those areas where American national interests may be at stake: removing Saddam Hussein from power and disarming Iraq of its alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq should not be conditioned upon the introduction of democracy in Iraq, but on the willingness of an Iraqi government, or governments, not to adopt policies that harm core U.S. interests, such as providing aid to anti-American terrorist groups.
The rest should be left to the Iraqi people to decide on their own. They can liberate themselves. If that's what they want.
Here in a commentary published the Saint Paul Pioneer Press in September 2003 I suggested that Today's Conservatives Support Government Managing Other Countries:
If there was one thing that used to define American conservatives, it was their skepticism -- if not hostility -- toward the role of government in the management of human affairs. According to traditional conservative philosophy, the state and its political class have neither the moral right nor the administrative capability to direct people's lives, here or abroad.
Yet today that's all changed. American conservatives -- traditional or "neoconservative" -- apparently want government to manage everywhere, especially abroad.
American conservatives seem to have become born-again government interventionists and social engineers when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, and to millions of foreigners and other distant societies whose values are alien to most Americans.
Indeed, there is a certain touch of the theater-of-the-absurd in watching spokesmen for a White House controlled by a political party that had been a proponent of "states' rights" in the South not many years ago, now proclaiming the need to advance the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in Iraq. (Which kind of begs the question: Did the CEOs of Bechtel and other big American firms flocking to Iraq these days take part in the civil rights marches in the 1950s?)
Most Americans believe that government can play a limited role in the process of improving race relations in the United States. And most conservatives would agree with that. Yet a conservative administration is now suggesting that all you need is, yes, government -- a few days and nights of aerial bombing, 140,000 U.S. troops, bureaucrats with good intentions and economic aid from Washington -- and, voila! we have "nation building."
And next to come? Religious freedom, individual rights and democracy among members of a society that is just starting to enter the Age of Enlightenment. Give government a chance and thousands of years of deep-rooted hatred among tribal, ethnic, religious communities in Iraq will come to a happy end.
The same conservatives who have warned us in the past of the harmful, unintended consequences of government projects seem to ignore concerns that America's nation-building venture in Iraq could fail but could also destabilize Iraq and the entire Middle East. Further, they apparently don't see that it could ignite more anti-American terrorism, not to mention the harmful impact it would have on the growth of U.S. government power and the effect it would have on the economy and civil rights in America.
Of course, some conservatives recognize the long-term risks posed by the American revolutionary plan in Iraq and the Middle East. But they contend that their support for it stems from the lessons of Sept. 11 and the ensuing war on terrorism. They overlook the fact that policies advanced by the U.S. government, ranging from the American coup in Iran in 1953 to the backing for the radical Moslem guerrillas in Afghanistan, and the corrupt Arab regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are at the root of much of anti-American terrorism.
It makes sense that conservatives should support a strong U.S. military to protect American security interests, which includes U.S. forces fighting terrorist groups such as al-Qaida. But conservatives should realize that, once again -- not unlike the American overthrow of Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran in 1953 -- the ousting of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003 is bound to create an environment in the Middle East that is more conducive to anti-American violence.
It seems that there are conservatives (the "neo" ones) who welcome such an outcome of "creative destruction" in the Middle East, as Michael Ledeen has described it. Such sentiments, which promote a U.S.-led revolutionary process in the Middle East -- and tomorrow in the rest of the world? -- may delight the ideological successors to Trotsky or Mussolini. But do they represent the kind of legacy that a self-described "compassionate conservative" like George W. Bush, who once preached "humility" in the conduct of American relationship with the world, wants? [That's basically what the celebrated Francis Fukuyama is arguing now..Three years after the war]
And two months later in The Baltimore Sun I proposed that we should Pull the Plug on Iraq Fantasy:
Mr. Bush should recognize before it's too late that, not unlike other dogmatic ideologues in history, the neo-conservative intellectuals who argue that Iraq could be turned into a shining model of democracy for the Middle East are advancing their own wishful thinking and political agendas. They are not advancing the interests of the rest of America.
The notion that Iraq and most of the Arab Middle East could be transformed into a full-fledged democratic system is nothing short of a fantasy. Much of the region is at the stage of political development that Italy and much of southern Europe were in middle of the 19th century.
Nonetheless, implementing this ambitious strategy in its most basic form - establishing a one-person, one-vote system in Iraq - could bring to power the kind of anti-Western Shiite leaders who would ignite a religious and ethnic civil war in Iraq, undermining America's interests in the region.
That kind of outcome demonstrates the tensions between the two concepts that drive the neo-conservative project: democracy that permits free elections and imperialism that requires stability. Hence, a democratic empire cannot be sustained in the long run, leaving the power-that-be in control with no other choice but to engage in repression.
And I concluded that:
To lower public expectations about Iraq would require the White House to accept that the two most likely scenarios under which U.S. troops could exit from Iraq will shatter neo-conservative dreams.
Those scenarios are the rise of an authoritarian leader who could maintain a unified Iraq by centralizing power in Baghdad and the division of Iraq into three separate Kosovo-like mini-states under some kind of regional and international safeguards. That could be a U.S.-Turkish protectorate in the Kurdish north; a European-Arab military presence in the Sunni areas; and a U.N. authority in the Shiite parts.
And, hey, unlike the NSA, NSC, CIA, and the Chalabi gang, I didn't charge for my advice.