Monday, May 02, 2005

The cause of democracy

The Bushists have been insisting for the last year or so that Bush's real goal in the Iraq war was to set an example of democratization that would drive the liber(aliz)ation of the entire Middle East. In particular in the three months, since the Iraqi elections and since things seem to have taken a somewhat more positive turn in several other parts of the Middle East, the Bushists have also been actively crowing that it is the war in Iraq (and the Bush, for choosing the war) that deserves credit for the positive progress.

There are at least three assumptions embedded in this line of argument. First, there is an assumption that what is happening in the Middle East right now in fact represents meaningful progress toward democratization and political justice. Second, there is an assumption that the Iraq War is somehow causally responsible for this progress -- either by terrifying the local tinpots and/or by providing a democratic "demonstration effect" for other Arab polities. And third, there is an assumption that this effect was an (perhaps the) intended consequence of the Iraq War. This last point is somewhat subtle, but politically crucial: if good things happen as an unintended consequence of an otherwise bad or stupid or evil act, we can't (or shouldn't) give moral and political credit to the perpetrator of the otherwise bad or stupid or evil act.

We could ask a lot of hard questions about all three of these assumptions, but for now let's address the last one, because if we can get to the point where the Iraq War and its sponsors give up trying to take partisan political credit for everything good that happens in the Middle East (and the world), then the sooner we can get on with getting unified behind promoting and cheering those good things.

So what evidence is there that Bush considered promoting Arab democracy the primary goal (or even a desirable byproduct) of the Iraq War? Well, Bush barely mentioned the word democracy in relation to Iraq was until a few weeks before the beginning of the war, when the choice for war had already been made and sold to the American people on other grounds (i.e. national security). During six months between the promulgation of the Bush Doctrine in September 2002 and the State of the Union -- in other words, during the whole time when the need for a war against Iraq was made to the American people and the world -- Bush did not mention democracy as a policy goal at all.

For more, I'll defer to Kevin Drum:

I decided a couple of days ago that it would just be masochistic to complain about Glenn's latest attempt to pretend that democracy promotion was the real reason for the Iraq war. However, Julian Sanchez is a stronger man than I am and says what needs to be said. He speaks for me in this.

But I will add one more thing: except in passing, George Bush didn't mention democracy promotion as a rationale for the war until his AIE speech of February 26, a mere three weeks before the bombing started....

Still not convinced? Here is Bush's 2003 State of the Union speech, delivered seven weeks before the war started. Read through it. There are 1,200 words about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the danger they pose. There are exactly zero words about bringing democracy to Iraq and the greater Middle East. In fact, aside from a passing reference to Palestine, the word "democracy" is used only once in the entire speech: in reference to Iran, in a passage that specifically states that "different threats require different strategies." The United States supports Iranian aspirations, Bush said, but that's all. It's not a reason to go to war.

I can't look into George Bush's heart, but I can listen to his words and watch his deeds. And based on that, democracy promotion was not on his agenda before the war, during the war, or after the war until the Ayatollah Sistani forced his hand. Let's not demean history by pretending otherwise.


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