Democracy grants power to the people, freedom for the masses and the prospering of society. Common logic dictates that it shall flourish wherever people desire self-determination and justice. Why not introduce it to regions plagued by totalitarianism and thus produce a universally free world of democratic societies? …This mindset is honorable and altruistic – that is, until it is implemented through military force, which reality naturally resists.
The war in Iraq, begun in 2003, has now been waged longer than the American Civil War, World War I, and even World War II. Over 4,000 US soldiers have been killed, and as of 2006 there have been over 28,000 Iraqi civilian casualties – all for the aforementioned endeavor (Smith 2006: 100-101). Despite the best of intentions, a stable and lasting democracy in Iraq remains a distant goal. What led our international involvement towards this quagmire, and more importantly, in what manner might we resolve it?
Popular argument suggests that the current situation in Iraq is the result of tactical failures on the part of our military forces. If only, the argument proposes, we had maintained order in the days following Saddam’s fall, instead of allowing and even cheering the mass celebration that quickly devolved into looting and anarchy, then perhaps the disposition of order would be stronger later on. If only we had secured Iraq’s borders, then regional and international Islamist militants would have been unable to wage urban guerilla warfare in the heart of Baghdad today.
If only we had preserved the Iraqi military, then we would have loyal and locally respected soldiers fighting for us, rather than disgruntled and formerly unemployed insurgent mercenaries fighting against us (Steele 2008: 1). If only we had heeded the advice of Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki and invaded with a force of 500,000 troops as opposed to the 300,000 that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ultimately ordered (Kamrava 2005: 208). Lastly, and with the most merit, if only there had been any post-invasion planning at all (Fukuyama 2006: 65).
While each of these hypothetical changes may have abated violence in the region, the foreign implantation of democracy itself and the American ideology that fueled it was the war’s first shortcoming. Neoconservatism, the underlying political philosophy behind the invasion of Iraq, is the belief that Western values such as freedom and democracy are universal and must be spread throughout the world, even by means of military force (Roy 2008: 4). As former neoconservative theorist Francis Fukuyama notes, “The problem with neoconservatism’s agenda lies not in its ends, which are as American as apple pie, but rather in its overmilitarized means,” (Fukuyama 2006: 64). This ideology, coupled with the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive warfare, ultimately led to the invasion of Iraq.
The roots of neoconservatism date back to Trotskyism and the American anti-communist left. A Wilsonian ambition to export democracy has been historically liberal, despite the contemporary movement’s conservative association. The group of intellectuals centered around this ideology evolved into today’s neoconservatives following the collapse of the Soviet Union, which sparked a realization amongst the founders for the potential of democracy’s pollination. The relative ease with which the Soviet Union’s dictatorship evaporated led to, “an expectation that all totalitarian regimes were hollow at the core and would crumble with a small push from the outside,” (Fukuyama 2006: 64).
The eventual neoconservative experiment in Iraq was conducted under this mindset, which viewed world affairs under the same lens as the Cold War was approached. The “reverse domino theory” posed by the neoconservatives is a variable of the original domino theory during the Cold War, which suggested that, unopposed by US containment, communism would spread through the world as country by country succumbed to its ideological force. Due to their belief that a desire for democracy is universally intrinsic, the neoconservatives theorized that the same development would take place if only an initial seed of democracy were introduced; Iraq (Andac). As French social scientist Olivier Roy summarizes,
“The military campaign, expected to be short, would be followed by a brief period of full occupation, modeled on that of Germany and Japan in 1945, designed to enable the Iraqi people to make the transition to democracy and elect a government that would then take charge of the country and adopt a pro-American policy, based on the people’s gratitude to the United States…” (Roy 2008: 29).
Following this transformation, democracy would blossom throughout the Middle East as common people saw their opportunity and toppled their dictators. This idea, however, quickly proved to be hopelessly romantic.
The war’s supporters have oft cited the examples of Germany and Japan, arguably the only two successful US-led regime changes in history. Cohesive historical consideration reveals these to be exceptions to the overarching rule – that imposed democracy does not work. Post-WWII Germany was successful due to its nature as a restoration of previous democratic structures and the relatively similar background and values of its people. The thorough devastation Japan faced during the war left its people comatose towards an occupation, and the maintained seat of the Emperor sustained their cultural pride (Steele 2008: 80-81). The situation in Iraq possesses none of these defining characteristics.
The “War on Terror” induced by September 11th, coupled with the Bush administration’s allegation that Saddam harbored weapons of mass destruction and implications towards direct connections with Al-Qaeda were central in the conception of a justification for war to present to the American public. The ultimate fear was, of course, Islamic terrorists enabled with a WMD from Saddam. Despite the various falsities (known or unknown at the time) behind the administration’s convictions, common reason should have posed the question: Why would Saddam Hussein – a secular nationalist – offer weapons of mass destruction (granting the false belief that he possessed them) to Islamic radicals to use against the west, thereby leaving Saddam’s palace as the return address and threatening his own totalitarian power?
Furthermore, the Bush administration thoroughly failed to take note of cultural trends and Iraqi public opinion before and during the invasion. While America has frequently acted upon the premise that “the enemy of your enemy is your friend” throughout history (and often to perilous ends), the Iraqi disposition is far more skeptical. As one Iraqi teacher told columnist Jonathan Steele before the war, “The scorpion has to be stamped on. If it’s not an Iraqi shoe, let it be an American one.” But he made clear the limits the Iraqi citizens held to the Americans. “The Iraqi people will rebuild their houses the day after Saddam goes. If the US tries to meddle, we will fight them to the last breath,” (Steele 2008: 81).
The stamping out of this scorpion lasted only six weeks – far shorter even than President Bush Sr.’s triumphant gulf war (Smith 2006: 99). Had the mere toppling of Saddam’s regime been the exclusive American goal, superseded by a quick withdrawal, then perhaps we could look back to a smashing victory. This, however, was clearly not the case. To borrow the words of the Iraqi teacher, the Americans opted to meddle. Soon the “liberators” became the “occupiers” – a collective opinion all the more potent since Middle Eastern memory of western imperialism remains alive and prevalent. Nor had many Iraqi’s forgotten the unfulfilled promise of President George H. W. Bush to support them in an uprising against Saddam during the first Gulf War, which lead to the vengeful slaughtering of thousands by the ruthless dictator. The eventual perception of an interminable American occupation amongst Iraqi’s led to widespread resistance. According to one study group in 2006, 61% of Iraqi’s approved of attacks on American troops (Steele 2008: 81-84). Certainly the disregard for personal dignity on a number of accounts has led to the widespread infuriation. As one Iraqi man who underwent arrest under both Saddam and the American occupation remarked, “It’s the way they arrest you. Saddam’s security people used to send a paper saying I had to report to their office… The Americans come into your home. Under Saddam, they humiliated you in their jail, not in front of our families,” (Steele 2008: 86). Though the ongoing resistance is often cited as an argument for continued occupation, it is the occupation that is exacerbating the resistance.
On a number of levels, justification of the war – both invasion and occupation – was wrong and thus its conception inherently flawed. Furthermore, the military war has outweighed and dismembered the equally important societal fight for the support of the Iraqi people. We now face the arduous task of undoing the damage in the most constructive way possible. As I have mentioned, a continuation of our military presence will only intensify the problem. Anything but a phased withdrawal of our troops will lead to further bloodshed. Due to the territorial nature and imbalance of Iraq’s ethnic divisions, an eventual federalist state – nationally controlled by a Shia-led government – is likely to develop. The problems posed by this are clear. There will not be pro-American Iraqi leadership. In fact, just the opposite may occur. A Shi’ite alliance may be forged in some form with our most dangerous enemy – Iran – though the historical trend of nationalism overpowering Islamism points against such ties. A civil war could ensue, though I believe the bulk of such a war has already proceeded under our occupation.
The future of Iraq is unclear, but as one well educated Iraqi man explained, “The United States must leave Iraq to the Iraqi people. We must rule ourselves. We have many educated people. We want the Americans to leave today,” (Steele 2008: 82). If the self-determination of the Iraqi people is truly the goal of the current administration, then our immediate withdrawal falls perfectly in line with the ideals that compelled them to invade five years ago – and there is no time for hesitation.
Andac, Elif. “The US and the Middle East-Part 1.” Sociology of The Middle East. 751 Fraser Hall, University of Kansas. Nov. 2009. Lecture.
Fukuyama, Francis. 2006. “After Neo-Conservatism”, New York Times Magazine; Feb 19, 2006; Research Library, pg. 62-67.
Kamrava, Mehran. 2005. The Modern Middle East: A Political History Since the First World War. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Roy, Olivier. 2008. The Politics of Chaos in the Middle East. NY: Columbia University Press.
Smith, Dan. 2006. The State of the Middle East: An Atlas of Conflict And Resolution. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Steele, Jonathan. Defeat: Losing Iraq and the Future of the Middle East. N.p.: Counterpoint, 2008.