Did the neocons expect that tribalism would make an Iraqi democracy function more smoothly? Mickey Kaus proposes this idea (around minute 46). He correctly observes that tribes can have relatively stabilising effects, and the promotion and politicisation of identities beyond the tribal will tend to break down the mechanisms of control that tribal leaders have. However, I am fairly confident that virtually all neocons, if not all of them to a man, who were promoting democratisation in Iraq not only were not counting on tribal loyalties to help, they were positively certain that those loyalties, like ethnic, sectarian and other loyalties, were irrelevant once the people got a taste of Freedom. Krauthammer’s old dismissive line about the importance of these things sums it up best:
This kind of contempt for the political and spiritual dignity of people who live in different circumstances never goes away. It simply gets applied serially to different sets of patronized foreigners. Today we are assured with confidence that Arabs, consumed by tribe or religion or whatever, don’t really care about freedom either.
Not only was there no sense in which tribal or religious ties might have been both normal and useful, but they were regarded by neocons as antithetical to everything that was being attempted with respect to democratisation. As I noted at the time:
Krauthammer sneers at those who perceive in other nations prior loyalties to “tribe or religion or whatever” because he regards people who make those loyalties a priority as regressive and rather frightening, and his global revolutionary faith, if we can call it that, cannot admit that anyone would actually prefer such atavistic attachments to the wonders of “freedom,” which to them is precisely ‘emancipation’ (always a favourite word of levelers, destroyers and other wreckers of human happiness) from all those ties and obligations that sane, rooted people take for granted and respect for the natural, decent affinities that they are.
Neocon “discoveries” of the importance of culture and the fissures of tribal society have been fairly late in coming. The reason why neocons have consistently been wrong about democratisation in traditional societies is that they do not understand that the rules are different in those societies. The universal, autonomous individual for whom their ideology is crafted does not exist in these societies. Like one of their number, Elliot Abrams, neocons believe that, in the words of Efraim Halevy, “you can promote a certain ideology anywhere and everywhere around the world if you think it’s the right ideology. And you really don’t have to know very much about the basic facts in the region that you’re dealing with, because you have to tailor the region to your ideology.” Neocons didn’t worry about the tribes in Iraq and certainly didn’t incorporate them as part of the plan, to the extent that there was a plan beyond, “It worked in WWII, so it has to work now.” It almost seems sometimes as if these social realities are largely unknown to them.