Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Missing the Point

The problem in Iraq isn't that we tried to impose democracy by the point of the figurative bayonet, but that we stopped trying to do that too soon.

I'm not sure how a writer can even put forth this notion in all seriousness:

Bayonets are highly effective in winning over the enemy, but they’re not very useful for winning the enemy over. Trying to build a democratic nation in Saddam’s former realm was hampered by two additional factors, namely that many Iraqis weren’t interested in either democracy — or in Iraq. The country was artificially created by the Western powers after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire some 90 years ago. The overriding loyalties of many Iraqis were to their tribes, ethnic groups or religious factions, not to a geographic entity described by cartographers as Iraq. ...

What would have been a more prudent course? After toppling the regime, apart from the forces needed to pursue Saddam who was still at large, the military had no more useful role to play. The liberated areas ought to have been handed over to the United Nations without delay. Mr. Bush could have let General Secretary Kofi Annan and his associates occupy themselves with the delights of nation- and democracy-building in the Gulf region.

This is analysis at an echelon far above reality.

In what alternate universe is there a United Nations that could take on such a mission?

Would we have had an Iraq like the former Yugoslavia where the UN tried to keep the lid on the atrocities?

Or like in Congo (renamed from Zaire when focus groups associated that name with mass death and chaos--which hasn't helped the reputation of the other Congo much, truth be told) where the death toll is enormous under the UN's protective umbrella?

Remember, the UN fled Iraq at the first car bombing of one of their facilities early in the post-major combat operations period.

So perhaps Iraq would look like Syria. Or maybe Libya. Or, God help us, Rwanda.

No, going in and leaving after pulling Saddam from his spider hole would have been horrible for the Iraqis, the region, and ourselves.

At the time we recognized that. I even remember liberal opponents of the invasion citing "the Pottery Barn rule"--you break it, you own it.

Now mind you, I strongly rejected the notion that we "broke" anything by getting rid of Saddam. He broke Iraq quite thoroughly.

But at least the opponents of the war accepted that we needed to help Iraq get on their feet after we destroyed the bloody, brutal, and aggressive Baathist government of Saddam Hussein.

As for his main point that you can't build democracy at the point of a bayonet? Ultimately he is right, but the bayonet is absolutely needed to keep other people with bayonets from using their bayonets to control the place and reject democracy.

Funny enough, soldiers use their bayonets for pretty much everything but fighting, these days.

Note that the American bayonet set the conditions for democracy in Germany, Japan, Italy, and South Korea quite nicely. None of those places had fertile ground for democracy or had much experience with it. It took decades, but they are free, prosperous, and democratic. And our allies.

But this happened because we stayed for decades--and our military is still in place! Our bayonets made sure that people got used to elections and learned the value of elections over bayonets for deciding issues great and small.

That's the problem with our bayonets in Iraq. It isn't that we tried to put democracy in place. It's that we left too soon to make sure what we planted had a decent shot at blooming in a very harsh figurative desert of governance.

As for artificial borders and ethnic, tribal loyalties, let's talk Belgium. Or Italy. And what about that whole Scottish secession thing? Just where is Czechoslovakia these days? Divisions can be coped with or papered over if the bayonets are kept sheathed by a good actor with more bayonets who doesn't want to use them to destroy.

I'd also like to ask the Canadian author--more than two and a half centuries after the Plains of Abraham--just how that "distinct society" of French-Canadians in Quebec is working out accepting the geographic entity described as Canada?

Iraq could work well enough. But the price got higher the last 30 months of America's absence. We thought the State Department could sit on bayonets. But as Germany, Japan, Italy, and South Korea show, it always had to be the United States Army, as unpleasant and unrewarding that task always is, doing the sitting for however many decades it takes.

That's the point. It isn't that we stayed at all, it's that we stayed too briefly.

UPDATE: Thanks to Mad Minerva for the link.