Friday, June 10, 2005

The democracy promotion non-debate

Democrats have been pretty assertive about pointing out that the original justification for the Iraq war had a lot to do with WMD and hardly anything to do with democracy promotion. The strange impact that shifting justifications for the Iraq War had on discussions of democracy promotion, however, hasn't been so clearly noticed.

If we had ever had a debate about how to expend our energies in promoting democracy, the idea of invading Iraq to set up a democracy would have been regarded as utterly absurd. For the price of the Iraq War, you could pay for enough foreign aid incentives and prop up enough local opposition parties to catalyze democratic transitions all over the globe. Iraq didn't have a credible domestic opposition party that could easily transition into government. And then there's the matter of the American and Iraqi lives that wouldn't have to be risked if more peaceful means were adopted. The fantastic claims neocons made about the effects of Iraqi democracy wouldn't have survived debate:

Neoconservatives widely predicted an easy occupation followed by an immediate peace, followed by "a flourishing democracy which would cause a domino effect across the region creating democracies elsewhere," said Peter Singer, a national security fellow at the Brookings Institution. "And then the very first foreign policy position taken by this new democratic Iraq, run by their exile friends, would be to recognize Israel, and that would somehow end the Arab-Israeli conflict, and bunnies would dance in the streets, and we would find life on Mars."

But of course, we didn't ever have a debate about this. In the post-9/11 climate of fear and horrific Judith Miller reporting, people got frightened into thinking that Iraq had WMD. When no WMD was discovered, the White House shifted to a democracy-promotion justification for the Iraq War. Conservatives got to act all high-and-mighty about the awesomeness of democracy, while ignoring the fact that they'd gone about promoting it in a terribly inefficient way. And at the time when we actually had to rebut their idiotic strategy for democracy-promotion, we had twenty thousand other things to complain about. So the debate about how to promote democracy never happened, and Bush was allowed to win it by default.

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