In Defense of Democratization

Glenn Reynolds is running a blog symposium on strategies for Iraq (here is Part 1). I don’t have big ideas, just some common sense measures, which I’ll list at the end of this post. Instead, I think it’s important to review the stakes: why did we go to Iraq, and what should we aim to achieve there?

The emerging consensus at Instapundit seems to be: (A) we’ll never get the Sunnis and Shiites to coexist and (B) our war aim isn’t a stable, democratic Iraq but the destruction of terrorist or Islamist elements in Iraq. Once that is done, we can come home and leave the Sunnis and Shiites to stew. I submit that we can’t get (B) without (A), and that the moral and strategic benefits of (B) make it a worthy war aim.

Why We Fight

Saddam Hussein, the totalitarian dictator of Iraq, was a mass murderer of Kurds and Arabs. He subverted the international mechanisms meant to succor his people while containing him. Broad international consensus concluded that he had an active nuclear weapons development program.

On Sept. 11, the old realism died forever that permitted the U.S. to wink at thuggish rulers in the name of stability or balance. No one should mourn it. It was a telling criticism of the U.S. for decades that we supported dictators for our own ends (including Saddam). After Sept. 11, we realized that the persistence of totalitarianism was not only an affront but dangerous, so we removed Saddam, a prominent example of anachronistic dictatorship and former U.S. clientage.

What We Hope to Achieve

Imagine the benefits to the entire world if Iraq, with its population of 26 million, its oil amounting to roughly 11 percent of global reserves, and its strategic position at the intersection of Europe, Africa, and Asia, were a multi-ethnic parliamentary democracy, with free speech, property rights, and freedom of conscience in religion.

The theocratic despots in Iran, hedonist royals in Saudi Arabia, and Baathists in Syria could not last 20 years with a dynamic, secular Iraq. Dictators around the world, from Venezuela to North Korea, would be put on notice, and their peoples heartened. The U.S. would have demonstrated fortitude to potential non-state and failed-state antagonists (not to mention China and Russia). A regional power in a chronically violent area would turn to trade and development.

Finally, the U.S. would have kept its word to the people of Iraq.

What is at Risk

If instead we abandon Iraq to the chaos sown by its neighbors, al-Qaeda, and unscrupulous local factions, we will likely soon see a weak theocracy emerge in Iraq. Whether, like the Palestinian non-state, it is run by Muqtada al-Sadr or another kleptocrat, or, like Lebanon, it is infiltrated by the secret services of Iran or Syria, Iraq would be a terrorist exporter and a pawn of ascendent Iran. (Don’t imagine that Iraq can be left in some sort of steady-state of Sunni-Shiite conflict. In anarchy, it would be merely the kind of terrorist haven that we closed down in Afghanistan and that festers in Somalia.)

Iran, flush with success, would become the preeminent regional power, with all that means for the world’s oil supply and the Gulf. It would turn its attention to destabilizing Pakistan and Afghanistan, and pursue its nuclear program with renewed zeal.

Syria would take a free hand in Lebanon; that nation’s steps toward democracy would falter. Israel, concluding that the U.S. is a broken reed, might act more aggressively to pre-empt existential threats like the Iranian nuclear program.

U.S. peers like the U.K., Japan, Australia, and India; geopolitical rivals China and Russia; allies like Poland, Turkey, Pakistan, South Korea, and Taiwan; and gangster states like North Korea and Somalia, would take note: the leaders of the United States place personal hatreds and domestic horsetrading above vital national interests. They are not interested in honoring their own government’s undertakings. They cannot bear combat deaths. They cannot even communicate properly with the citizens of the U.S. (Andy McCarthy and James Ruhland have been eloquent on this point).

In short, establishment of a stable democracy in Iraq is our best option to upset the remaining sponsors of terrorism and support our own strategic position in the Middle East. We cannot eliminate terrorists or their sponsor regimes by pretending that Sunni-Shiite strife is quite distinct and unconnected from our aims.

A couple of suggestions to improve our efforts in Iraq:

Unify the chain of command. In his exit memo, Secretary Rumsfeld alluded to wheedling non-DOD U.S. government agencies to help with civil and economic measures. That’s nonsense. Put everyone under one authority and get rid of those who won’t cooperate.

Close the borders with Iran and Syria, as far as possible. Add forces if necessary. There appears to be a consensus that Iran and Syria can make our problems go away; presumably they are causing some of these problems; therefore prevent them from doing so. Prior posts in the symposium have elaborated on this.

As always, for analysis of Iraq and the Middle East, be sure to visit The Belmont Club, Winds of Change, The Adventures of Chester, Michael Totten, and Bill Roggio.

3 Responses to “In Defense of Democratization”

  1. Sam Says:

    Iran and Syria, that’s a pretty long border to patrol. Each of those actors have stability interests at stake. What is gained by excluding them? What has been gained by this exclusion? More to the point, what has been lost? The rhetoric and posturing that has defined the past 4 years of US Iran relations has only given Ahmadinejad prestige and credibility, and Bush an untenable situation in Iraq. In the Middle East, the US has lost its credibility as a peace broker, and this has lead to increased fighting in Lebanon, Gaza and Afghanistan. A diplomatic solution to the relationship with Iran helps in Iraq and Afghanistan, give leverage against Syria, Hezbollah, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. It does upset Israel for a few minutes, but as long as they get their 2 billion dollars aid per year, I’m sure they’ll be ok. Also, it would show us non-Americans that there is leadership left in Washington, and could start to salvage some of the international prestige that has been lost over this mess.

  2. Timothy Says:


    Thanks for your note. Sorry I haven’t had a chance to respond earlier. You’re right, it is a long border to guard. But I don’t agree that Iran and Syria have “stability interests at stake,” at least in the sense I think you mean. I think they have anarchy interests at stake; that’s why they’ve been energetically exporting funds, material, and fighters to Iraq for years. They would like a Middle East (i) with a weak Iraq which they can dominate, (ii) purged of U.S. allies, and (iii) with Israel in a weakened military and strategic position conducive to its eventual dissolution. Chaos and violence in Iraq serve all these ends: Iraq is divided, America is frustrated and divided at home, and as a result Israel grows more isolated.

    Acknowledged negotiations with Iran and Syria at this time would be a sham; Iran and Syria would use them only to prolong and obfuscate the issue in Iraq. The only diplomatic solution that would satisfy Iran is dropped opposition to its nuclear weapons program – effectively handing them control of the Middle East.

    As for Israel, if U.S. leadership ever had the temerity to play the Chamberlain by trying to wring unilateral concessions from this fellow democracy and ally to appease Iran, I would applaud if Israel told us to stow it in Ashtabula – as they have already done. Actually, I think a “diplomatic solution” with Iran could lead Israel to attack Iranian nuclear facilities.

    Far better to curtail Iranian and Syrian influence in Iraq; then negotiate from strength. At any rate that is how I see the situation – no negotiated solution possible because the goals of U.S., Iraq, Iran, and Syria are opposed.

  3. In Defense of Preventing Genocide « Zeal and Activity Says:

    […] In Defense of Democratization […]

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