These elections were one of the things that were alleged to be impossible by many of the “realists”.  ~Andrew Cunningham

A citation on this point would be helpful, since I cannot recall a single person, realist or no, arguing against the war and saying that “elections” would be “impossible” in Iraq.  Elections occur in the Near East and North Africa with a kind of dreary regularity.  They vote in Lebanon, they vote in Yemen, they vote in Egypt, they vote (to no purpose whatever) in Algeria, they vote in Iran, they even vote in Bahrain.  Nobody doubts that elections are possible in every corner of the globe.  Even relatively “free and fair elections,” such as they are, take place in countries that no one would reasonably call free, such as Russia and Pakistan, and whose governments no one would confuse with being representative or constitutional.  But if, as the democratists now try to aver, “elections are not the whole of democracy,” having elections does not a successful implantation of democracy make.  If elections–and nothing else–are what democratists wish to introduce to the world, then they are even more dangerous than I thought. 

Furthermore, what realists and anti-interventionists of various stripes were usually saying was one of two things: a) elections will empower illiberal, dangerous or otherwise despotic characters or b) elections will empower forces hostile to the United States and her allies.  (Some went further and noted that in ethnically and religiously divided countries democracy was simply a way to politicise these divisions and inflame divisions to the point of violence.)  In the event, those who held one or both of these views have been vindicated by events in Iraq, as the political forces endorsed by elections have been largely illiberal, anti-American and hostile to American allies in many important respects.  Especially in the developing world (but not necessarily limited to it), democracy often means in practice authoritarian populism or some form of illiberal democracy, often dictated by the pressures of nationalism or religious fundamentalism.  Realists and anti-interventionists questioned the wisdom of unleashing political forces hostile to American interests and forces that were no more inclined to basic Western political values (and perhaps less so) than the Baathists they were replacing.  In other words, the idea that democratisation would make Iraq moderate, peaceful and pro-Western–which many a pro-war pundit definitely did say would probably result–was a lot of hogwash and some opponents of the war said as much before the invasion.  But none of us ever said that elections were impossible.  In our eyes, they were only too possible, and their results were only too predictable.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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