Sunday, October 17, 2004

The Fallacy of Iraq

In my more charitable moments, I have no doubt that the invasion of Iraq was undertaken with the best of motives. Not because the invasion got rid of an evil and savage dictator, whose horrors become more and more apparent day by day - the issue of the pre-emptive strike was always to a greater or lesser extent fraudulent. In any case, despite all the furore over the non-existent weapons of mass destruction, it would only be the most naive or foolhardy person who believed that Saddam had no desire to create such weapons, or that if he succeeded in creating them, that he would have deployed them.

This is not to say that I agree wholeheartedly with the doctrine of the pre-emptive strike; although I do have fears over the constructs of international law and fear that they may well prove ineffective if we ever do find ourselves face to face with someone with the capability and intent to destroy civilisation as we know it. Yet for those familiar with some strands of neoconservative thought, they would have known that all these sorts of arguments were at best secondary to another motive - the panacea of liberal democracy.

Again, I will not hesitate to point out that not only do I not support the idea of invasion of other countries sheerly for the purpose of imposing democracy - we have no inherent claim to moral superiority and the more lives we cost the less superiority we can claim in the eyes of our opponents - but that it is an inversion of the original neoconservative thought. It is significant that Francis Fukuyama - author of the neoconservative bible "The End of History and the Last Man" - has broken ranks with his former allies and criticised the policy of the Bush administration strongly. His book points towards the general economic strength of liberal democracy, whilst accepting in the short term state central planning can induce huge leaps forward. Yet what the neocons in the Bush administration fail to realise is that liberal democracy has been most effective when it has been instituted by a popular movement from within the country.

Of course, there is an oleological side to intervention in Iraq that is all too often ignored, replaced instead by crude claims that the US wanted to invade Iraq purely to gain control of its oil supplies. Whilst having such a large oil source in the hands of a regime as unstable as the Ba'athists was clearly undesirable, France, Russia and China all negotiated with Saddam to open up the oil supply, and the US could have done the same if they wanted. Instead, part of the motivation behind the invasion was the belief that the installation of a stable pro-western deomcracy in Iraq would give a greater stability to the world economy (naturally benefiting the US, but it is easy to overlook the fact that the current volatility of the oil market is due to the fact that worldwide black gold is able to support some of the most odious and corrupt regimes).

Yet far more important in the minds of the US administration was surely the idea that they could install a democracy in Iraq with the minimum of trouble - in a remarkably candid moment, Geoff Hoon accepted that the aftermath of invasion in Iraq had been fare more difficult than the British government had expected; given their mismanagement, I imagine the US have found the same. Of course, it is very easily to belittle them with the benefit of hindsight. For all my reservations regarding the invasion of Iraq, I felt that if a stable democracy in Iraq had been created, with the immense benefit of assisting the stronger reforming movements in Saudi Arabia and Iran, then the positive historical legacy of Bush and Blair would have been great. Probably ridiculously false optimism, and, as I will show later, I still think these were the wrong reasons to go to war. Yet if the right things are done for the wrong reasons, we have still made progress.

The intervening months since the fall of Baghdad have filled me with growing disillusionment. It is clear that we did not have a clear and realistic exit plan when we entered. It is embarrassing to see Baghdad divided into "green" and "red" zones. In the haste to capture Baghdad, we did not spend sufficient time securing control of towns on the road - leading to the problems of insurgency we see today. Worst of all, little thought was given as to the huge ethnic tensions that were inevitably to be sparked in a scramble for control of the new Iraq. Creating an independent Kurdistan may have been an impossibility due to Turkish concerns, but the way that the country is being run at the moment, civil war does not seem as remote as we may wish.

What does all this prove? You can't go around forcing democracy on people at the point of a gun. Aside from the most obvious point - if we think it is OK to impose one kind of rule on another sovereign nation, how can we ever prevent the annexation of other countries because they think their form of rule is best? - liberal democracy works because it allows the people to decide how they want to be ruled, and because it allows debate, and upholds the right of people to tell others what they don't want to hear. We are repulsed by the Taliban because women who don't want to wear burkas had no chance to speak up. We hate Saddam because those who refused to legitimate his government in the "referendums" on his rule were fed rat poison. But just because we - and millions who lived under their rule - hated them, doesn't mean that instituting our preferred forms of government will work.

Indeed, we lose the moral high ground when we bomb the cities of Iraq. In the same way that families affected by murder have a high propensity to believe in stronger punishments, so those who lost loved ones to cruise missiles are less likely to believe the coalition forces truly have their best interests at heart. And when pictures of the abuse at Abu Ghraib are shown, the link between Islamophobia and the western world is made ever stronger. By all means, fund groups pressuring governments for democratic reform. As dubious as this might sound, it is definitely preferable to keepin Hamas operatives on a UN payroll, and would hopefully lead to good in the long run. But if we are to establish a fully functioning liberal democracy in the Middle East, and truly create a modern day "city on a hill" to be a beacon to the rest of the region, it cannot be achieved by force. If, by wholeheartedly supporting grass-roots movements to overthrow evil regimes, we can act as a great force for good. But any democracy established in Iraq will, for at least a generation and probably much longer, be seen as nothing but a stooge of the Americans. The bungle of Iraq has greatly decreased the possibility that we can see Islamic democracy flourish. Invading Iraq was idealism gone too far - and the world is a far poorer place for it.