Saturday, September 18, 2004

Iraq: Where Do We Go From Here

"We're dealing with a population that hovers between bare tolerance and outright hostility," says a senior U.S. diplomat in Baghdad. "This idea of a functioning democracy here is crazy. We thought that there would be a reprieve after sovereignty, but all hell is breaking loose."

Democracy promotion. Is such a thing feasible? If so, why has it been so badly implemented?

I ask because I've seen many worrying trends as of late in the Middle East and Russia. Yglesias links to the updated Arab Reform Bulletin put out by the CEIP.
So in hostile countries (Syria) things are getting worse, not better. In one allied country (Egypt) things are getting worse. In other allied countries (the GCC) things are getting worse and it's related to counterterrorism policy.
Very worrisome, indeed. Max Boot (free reg. req'd) writes in the LA Times about the importance of democracy promotion in American foreign policy circles but
because of the difficulties we are encountering in Iraq, the democratization imperative is under attack today from both left and right. From Pat Buchanan to Paul Krugman, the cry has gone up that the stress on exporting American ideals is a plot by nefarious "neoconservatives." Even John Kerry — the nominee of Wilson's own party — sounds disdainful of attempts to spread freedom to places like Cuba and Iran.

Maybe, the cynics suggest, some people (the Arabs, for instance) are simply unfit for self-rule. More sophisticated versions of this argument suggest focusing on economic development first, to be followed eventually by political liberalization. If impoverished nations rush to hold elections, realpolitikers fear, the result could be the rise of "illiberal democracies" or instability and civil war. Better to deal with enlightened despots like Hosni Mubarak or Lee Kuan Yew rather than risk the messiness of freedom.

Anyone seduced by these arguments would do well to peruse two important studies conducted by scholars with impeccable liberal credentials. The first is a new book called "The Democracy Advantage," written by Joseph Siegle, a former humanitarian aid worker; Michael Weinstein, a former New York Times editorial writer; and Morton Halperin, a former staff member of the ACLU and the Clinton administration who now works for George Soros' Open Society Institute. They're hardly neocons, yet in a synopsis of their book published in Foreign Affairs they make a powerful case for democracy promotion.
I do think that democracy promotion is a vital tool in combating Islamism, yet it is not the cure. Most people assume that democracy promotion is a good idea, they just disagree on how and where it should be implemented. The Iraq War has severely hampered the goal of spreading democracy to the point where it appears likely that if we can stabilize Iraq using a strongman, we will leave it at that. Especially now that the attacks have been picking up and indigeninous Iraqi Islamists control large parts of the Al Anbar Province. Styguis has a good post on the deterorating situation in Iraq. I said this
The only thing I can think of is we go into the "insurgent enclaves" like Fallujah and Sammara and we take back the cities. Yes, it will be bloody; thousands of Iraqi's, dozens of American soldiers, but that might end up being our only hope of some kind of stability in the future.
The only problem with that is it's unlikely to happen anytime before the election. Some people see the brilliance of our strategy, but I just don't. It may sound good on paper, but in this day and age of 24 hour news, preception is everything. The situation is worsening day-by-day. We thought we could out last a low level insurgency without it getting too violent. Yet, in retrospect, we should've taken Fallujah back in April no matter what the cost. Now Zarqawi's Tawhid group is exponetially stronger (even being able to survive his killing or capture) and its reach has expanded all around Iraq. Ironically, the New York Times, has a front page story today that American military commanders have decided to take back Islamist-held cities by the end of the year.
[B]AGHDAD, Iraq, Sept. 18 - Faced with a growing insurgency and a January deadline for national elections, American commanders in Iraq say they are preparing operations to open up rebel-held areas, especially Falluja, the restive city west of Baghdad now under control of insurgents and Islamist groups.

A senior American commander said the military intended to take back Falluja and other rebel areas by year's end. The commander did not set a date for an offensive but said that much would depend on the availability of Iraqi military and police units, which would be sent to occupy the city once the Americans took it.

The American commander suggested that operations in Falluja could begin as early as November or December, the deadline the Americans have given themselves for restoring Iraqi government control across the country.
By then, who knows what the situation will look like on the ground.