An Astute Criticism

It is ironic that the critiques of the Bush administration I find most penetrating come from the right, not the left side of politics. I discussed Australian conservative Owen Harries work here. Now I find an excellent diagnosis of the US’s errors in Iraq from Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick writing at Townhall.

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration identified certain basic guiding realities and missed others. First there was the issue of Arab tyranny. As Bush recalled last September, “For decades, American policy sought to achieve peace in the Middle East by pursuing stability at the expense of liberty. The lack of freedom in that region helped create conditions where anger and resentment grew, and radicalism thrived, and terrorists found willing recruits.”

Yet recognizing this basic reality did not lead the administration to adopt appropriate policies. Rather than promote liberty, which at its core revolves around a certain foundational understanding of human dignity, the administration promoted elections – fast elections – in Iraq and throughout the region.

That’s more like it. Suddenly I have an explanation for my unease with the apparent rush to elections as a cure all. An explanation that goes back to my main question about the invasion of Iraq – had the administration worked out how it was going to handle the consequences of empowering the Shiite majority with all that implied? I still see the end result in Iraq as primarily a function of how well the Shiites work out a political solution for all of Iraq – even if it ends up a semi partitioned federation. By moving too quickly and too superficially the administration got a weak and inappropriate government. Caroline Glick again:

The Americans pushed for elections in the hopes of finding a silver bullet that would instantly solve the problem of tyranny in the Arab world. But in their rush, the Americans trampled the very liberal democrats they sought to empower.

These forces, who receive no money from Iran and Saudi Arabia to buy votes, and have no private militias to intimidate voters, couldn’t compete against the likes of the Dawa party in Iraq, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian Authority.

Sticking with Iraq, I certainly see the problem as an ineffective Shiite government that is only now beginning to realize that it must move on from the sectarian Shiite goals of the Saddam era and begin to govern in the reality of today. President Malaki’s party, the SCIRI, recently dropping the word ‘revolution’ from it name shows pretty clearly that they are catching on to their position in the current state of affairs.

I have felt for some time that it might have been better if we had stayed longer with the temporary Iraqi government under Allawi before going to elections so as to allow the political process to mature. Still, the longer we stayed with an appointed government the longer it would have taken for the Iraqi people feel full ownership of it, or for the moment of truth for Iraqi’s politicians to arrive. And let us not forget the enthusiasm the Iraqi people showed for the elections which surprised all the cynics. The elections might have been ill timed and I agree that elections alone do not provide liberty, but they were just as strongly desired by the people of Iraq as they were, for example, the people of South Africa.

I see the recent change of attitude by the Sunni tribes and the Shiite government’s interest in them (Malaki has gone twice to meet with the Sunni tribal Sheiks.) as a clear sign that the political process in Iraq is beginning to work. Hopefully, they are catching on to what Benjamin Franklin observed on the eve of the American revolution – that they had better hang together or they will all hang separately.

One Response to “An Astute Criticism”  

  1. 1 Akaky

    Elections, by and large, are easier to do than promoting democracy full-time. The latter requires a complete committment; the former, while sometimes difficult to do well, only requires a few good days and people who can count. It’s just my sense that a good part of the trouble we have in Iraq started when we made it clear that we were there to overthrow Saddam and then leave, as if democracy were a shake and bake proposition. We didnt look to the possible long term problems because we didnt want to think about what we might have to do five years down the road. This, I think, is one of the reasons politicians love air power so much. You can limit your own losses, show that you mean business, and get out with a minimum of fuss and bother. The problem, of course, is that the fuss and bother is what wars are all about.

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