Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Krauthammer’s Iraq Wisdom

Our failing policy there has little to do with troop levels and probably couldn’t be turned around with an increase now. We’ve made some key mistakes, as any Machiavellian could see. And there’s still a glimmer of hope. But finally the republic is for the Iraqis to keep (or not). I’m not saying Charles is right, but the truth is he’s never dumb.

Discussions - 3 Comments

It is hard to quarrel with anything in Krauthammer’s wise and sobering article(and I,for one, am not always in agreement with his view of the world). The one thing that the "coalition of the willing" could never give Iraq was a political culture conducive to civility and moderation. We liberated them from an evil tyrant and a murderous Baathist regime; not for a moment did we have it in our power to make them worthy of their new found freedom. That is a quality of soul that cannot be exported or conjured up at will. As Krauthammer suggests,a regime of self-governing citizens depends on a series of choices and habits that are not exactly in evidence in Iraq today. The architects of our Iraq policy were far too quick to assert that hatred of despotism would naturally translate into a settled capacity for self-government on the part of Iraqis. They also assumed in an almost fetishistic manner that electoral democracy would give rise to that happy outcome. As I’ve argued in print on more than one occasion, this had much to do with a historicist complacency that leads almost everyone on the Left and Right today to assume that the world is moving inevitably toward the same begign democratic outcome. But it is also related to a certain political correctness(present even on the Right) that refuses to face up to the nature of Islam(not just Islamism) and the remarkable intractability of the Arab-Islamic world. Moreover,as Krauthammer rightly suggests, a despotism such as Saddam’s fatally undermines the trust necessary to sustain a free regime. We conservatives ought to be chastened by the fact that conservatives en masse succumbed to inebriated hopes about America’s capavity to remake the world by force. Meanwhile, implaccable, nihilistic enemies continue to want to destroy us and no retreat from Iraq will begin to appease them. And the danger is that the failure of the Bush Doctrine will embolden the neo-Chomskyites among our elites who see American power as the principal source of evil and instability in the contemporary world.

Dan, well put, measured, and I agree. I confess to being one of those who didn’t think adequately about post-Saddam Iraq, although I remain a staunch defender of the decision to invade, and a semi-defender, or at least a sympathetic explainer, of the decision to promote democracy rather than an authoritarian government. Regardless of the second decision’s merits in the abstract, certainly the evidence is mounting that its implementation was grossly mishandled from the beginning, partly due to Bush’s "fetishistic" faith in freedom.

Lately I’ve been thinking that our errors on Iraq illustrate the dangers of learning history’s latest lessons all too well, of over-reacting to the last mistake one made. The refusal to face the nature of Islam and Arab clan-patterns w/ respect to democracy had much to do with the fact that the old middle-east realists had resigned themselves to Arabs-need-strongmen thinking too much, to Saddam’s benefit. Something similar, although much more complicated, could be said about the "unilateral style" of our diplomacy post-9/11.

So perhaps the most important Iraq question, at least from our standpoint, is this: "What might be the ’lessons’ of just-happened history we are currently over-learning to our future misfortune?"

I agree with most of this...well-said. I think we have been the victims of too much "modernization-think" and "libertarian-think." Culture matters -- to appreciate freedom, you need certain cultural habits...individualism, civic-mindedness, universalist attitudes toward other people, and a temporal mindset. Iraq has more of these than most Arab nations, but evidently not enough to embrace democracy.

I also think we have failed to realize that the Western "nation-state" is a competitor of Islamism. Millions of these people view nationalism as western imperialism...layering democracy on top of that just rubs salt in the wound (at least to Jihadis and Salafis in general). Democratization of the globe is a crusade, for all intents and purposes. We might as well come to grips with that.

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