Friday, February 04, 2005

The new meme hits the Iraq debate 

Updated: In one of the most hilarious ripostes, Antiwar blog calls me a "lamo-o joker" and a "Warblogger Sacrificial Goat". Enough said.

Original post: Beware of the new leftie meme: the Iraqi election is not a victory for Bush's policies, because Bush didn't want elections to take place a) at all, or b) anytime soon, or c) in the form they took place. Three recent examples:

Patrick Cockburn, combining b) and c): "The poll on Sunday was portrayed as if Washington and London had finally been able to reach their goal of delivering democracy to Iraqis. In fact, the US postponed elections to a distant future after the 2003 invasion. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein had been so swift that the American administration thought it could rule Iraq directly and with little Iraqi involvement... The reason why there was a poll on Sunday was that the US, facing an escalating war against the five million Sunnis, dared not provoke revolt by the 15-16 million Shi'as. The price the US paid was to have an election in which the Shi'as would show that they are the majority of Iraqis."

Arianna Huffington, also combining b) and c): "Let's not forget that for all President Bush's rhetoric about spreading freedom and democracy, a free election was the administration's fallback position - more Plan D than guiding principle. We were initially going to install Ahmad Chalabi as our man in Baghdad, remember? And the White House consented to an open election only after Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani sent his followers into the streets to demand it."

W. David Jenkins verging on a): "Bush did not go into Iraq to have this election. He went into Iraq to get those WMDs and to make sure that Hussein and al Qaeda stopped working together. That is why he invaded and that is why this election does not 'absolve' him from anything. In fact, this election was little more than a 'collateral blessing' resulting from the new hell he has created in Iraq."

Such arguments are not only disingenuous (just which system of government the critics think the Bush Administration wanted to replace Saddam's tyranny with? colonial proconsulship a la golden days of the British Empire?), they also represent the best (or the worst) of the "heads I win, tails you lose" strategy employed by the left to make sure that whatever the United States does it will always be in the wrong.

For example, the US originally wanted to ensure that Iraq's new constitution is drafted in a process that involves all the ethnic and religious groups, particularly the Arab Sunnis who would otherwise feel most left out (thus the Administration was prepared to live with overrepresentation of some groups, such as the Sunnis, and underrepresentation of others, like the Shia). In the end, the Americans have bowed down to Ayatollah Sistani's demands of "one person one vote" election to choose the National Assembly which would in turn draft the constitution. This arrangement guaranteed that the Shia would win the majority and the Sunnis would largely boycott the poll. But according to the critics, in either scenario the US is at fault: either because it wants to sidestep the democratic process, or because it allows itself to get rolled by the Shia into having an "illegitimate" election (i.e. one in which the Sunni Arab minority largely chooses not to participate).

Similarly, remember all the controversy and hand-wringing over the past three years about the radical neo-conservative cabal running the US foreign policy and pushing their mad schemes to export liberal democracy to all the unfree parts of the world?* Well, strangely, now that the election in Iraq has taken place, we discover that the US has after all been run by cold-blooded realists who didn't care about such trifles like democracy because all they ever wanted was to lord over Iraq and steal its oil. You can do
a quick little test: type in words "neoconservative", "iraq" and "election" into Google News search and see how much the these terms are nowadays discussed in the same context. The answer is not much. I fondly remember the days, not that long ago, when Daniel Pipes, a generally strong supporter of Bush's war on terror, suggested that Iraq needs a strongman rather than democracy, he was jumped upon by Atrios for deviating from the President's line that Islam and democracy are incompatible. How quickly the goalposts shift.

* "Believing that authoritarianism and theocracy have allowed anti-Americanism to flourish in the Middle East, neocons advocate the democratic transformation of the region, starting with Iraq"
("Neocon 101", Christian Science Monitor).


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