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Tunisia and Iraq

But more seriously, had democracy failed in Iraq, had the country descended into chaos, and had Iraqis laboring for a secular, democratic Muslim country been killed and exiled, do we imagine this would have been good for the prospects of democracy elsewhere? ~Jennifer Rubin

Well, the country did descend into chaos, Iraqis laboring for a secular country were killed and exiled*, and that wasn’t good for the prospects of democracy elsewhere. These also happen to be the effects of the Bush administration’s Iraq policy, which involved invading and devastating a country for bogus national security reasons and then trying to dress up the entire debacle as an experiment in democratization. The outward forms of democracy didn’t entirely fail in Iraq, but what those forms did was politicize ethnic and sectarian divisions and fuel years of inter-communal violence. Looking at the chaos unleashed by what war supporters kept insisting on calling “democracy,” nations throughout the region associated “democracy” with foreign occupation, civil strife, and constant violence. For that matter, there has been no “successful emergence of a secular, democratic Iraq.” There is an elected government with increasingly authoritarian and illiberal habits governed by sectarians pretending to be secular nationalists.

Rubin continues:

Recall that it was the left that said that democracy was alien to the Middle East. Bush was right; they were wrong.

No, Bush’s critics understood, usually better than his supporters, that Iran had some measure of constitutional and representative government before the Pahlavis, and Turkey has been gradually developing as a democratic republic since WWII. Opponents of the disastrous war and the “freedom agenda” said that democratic and representative government was alien to almost all Arab countries. Lebanon was and remains the exception. That was true. Maliki’s semi-dictatorship in Baghdad does little to change that assessment. Bush based his conviction that the U.S. should install democratic government in a predominantly Arab country on the general lack of such governments in Arab countries, which democratists concluded was a principal source of jihadism. To the extent that Bush and his allies were serious in wanting to democratize Arab countries, they were taking for granted that democratic government was alien to these countries, which is why the U.S. had to introduce it directly through active promotion. What Bush and his allies also said was that democratic government was part of a “single model of human progress,” and that therefore every society should be governed this way, and furthermore that every society was capable of governing itself this way. That was the far-fetched claim that most of Bush’s critics couldn’t accept, because it is nothing more than an ideological conviction.

She concludes:

And the notion that democratization and rebellion against despotic regimes do not spread regionally after a successful experiment is belied by history (e.g. Central America, Eastern Europe).

For one thing, Central American and Eastern European nations had some of their own traditions of representative government. For most of these nations, this form of government was not an entirely new political experiment, which had something to do with why it was successful. Democratic revolution does not necessarily spread regionally, and the more that it is associated with major warfare and chaos the less attractive revolution appears. After the outbreak of the French Revolution, it took over over thirty years before other revolutions not directly under French guidance took place, and most of these were crushed because of the general hostility to liberal and democratic politics after 1815. Bush may have done for liberal and democratic politics in the region what Napoleon did for them in Europe: associate them with foreign invasion and humiliation, link them with violence and chaos, and thereby utterly discredit them for a generation or more.

While we’re on the subject, the Tunisian uprising isn’t going to lead to regional transformation. As Josef Joffe argues, Tunisia was just prosperous enough, and most other Arab countries are either too poor and their peoples too poorly-educated, or they are so rich on account of oil wealth that their peoples will not follow the Tunisian example. The good news for Tunisians is that they were far enough away from Iraq that they were not directly affected by its convulsions and refugees, and the overwhelmingly negative example of Iraq did not deter them from rising up against their own dictatorship.

* If Tunisia’s uprising is a “middle class revolution,” as some are calling it, and if Tunisia is a good prospect for the successful development of representative government because of its secular, well-educated, large middle class, Iraq became a much worse prospect when the invasion and ensuing chaos drove a huge percentage of Iraq’s middle-class, educated professionals out of the country.

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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