When the United States backed dictator Saddam Hussein throughout the 1980’s, we were told it was as a bulwark against Iran, the influence of which could give rise to an Islamic Iraq. When we ousted Hussein in 2003, we were told that we were giving Iraqis democracy, yet we remain in that country almost a decade later, due in large part to the fear that a free Iraq might choose Islam.
As evidenced by Iraq, American foreign policy seems to be that dictators are good so long as they’re our dictators and democracy is good so long as it’s our kind of democracy, and those who consistently push for US foreign intervention will argue for either accordingly.
Removed enough from America’s former support for Hussein, neoconservatives could successfully push a “freedom” narrative to get their way in Iraq. In his Second Inaugural Address, President George W. Bush even pledged to end “tyranny around the world” as part of a “Freedom Agenda.”
In confronting the turmoil in Egypt, this narrative has become a bit more complicated. Reports the Jewish daily Forward: “After once uniting to support regime change in Iraq through an American military invasion, neoconservatives are now divided as they face the prospect of a regime change in Egypt driven by popular internal forces out of America’s control.”
“America’s control” indeed. Many on both the Left and Right who opposed the invasion of Iraq instinctively knew that the neoconservatives were simply using 9/11 as an excuse to start a war they’d been aching for as far back as the Clinton administration. All the talk about spreading “freedom” and “democracy” in Iraq was just that–talk. As many in the loop at that time now attest, high ranking Bush officials were trying to somehow link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks literally days after the World Trade Center fell. A permanent US footprint in Iraq was the goal since day one, and any “WMD,” “mushroom cloud” or democratic rhetoric necessary to sell the American people on this would do.
But the U.S. already has a footprint in Egypt and his name is Hosni Mubarak. To their credit–or perhaps embarrassment, as one gets the impression that they desperately want some sort of vindication for the Iraq War–some neocons are siding with the protesters. These neoconservatives deserve credit for their intellectual consistency, however imperfect their argument. But many are siding with Mubarak (including Bush luminaries John Bolton and Dick Cheney), arguing that an Islamic regime might arise if Egyptians are allowed self-determination. This may very well be the case. The same Bush administration that once promoted free and fair elections for Palestine immediately withdrew their support for such democracy the moment those voters chose Hamas. We are told we must stay in Afghanistan indefinitely lest that country fall back into the hands of the Taliban. We must remain in Iraq because it must remain “civil”–meaning any subsequent chaos cannot produce a government antithetical to America’s perceived interests.
The difference between Iraq and Egypt is this: You can’t give people democracy. They have to fight for it themselves, something the Founders of our own republic knew all too well. This type of genuine, democratic revolution is exactly what’s happening in Egypt today, and every neocon who now thumps his chest about the rise of an Egypt-based “caliphate” movement led by the Muslim Brotherhood probably knows he’s being every bit as deceptive as when they were pitching “freedom” and “democracy” in Iraq. The hypocrisy is glaring. But there is a point to be made even amongst the mostly nonsensical, Islamophobic hyperbole–real democracy in the Middle East will often result in a significant part of the population choosing precisely the type of Islamic state we supposedly want to discourage. This is no doubt as true in Egypt today as it is has always been in Iraq.
The larger and more important question should be–why should the United States even have to fear Islamic states? What has changed so drastically since the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s when we were more worried about Communists than Muslims? Has Islam become radical only recently? Has this ominous caliphate plan just been discovered? Or has our foreign policy in that part of the world significantly changed? For the past three decades it’s hard to imagine how America could have been more involved in either Iraq or Egypt, or for that matter, most of the Middle East.
The same “democracy” we wanted to bestow upon Iraq is now being discouraged in Egypt precisely by many of those once the most enthusiastic about spreading it. And considering the now transparent insincerity of their democratic rhetoric, neoconservatives should be probably more careful about what they wish for in the future. They just might get it.