Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 31, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

STABILITY AND DEMOCRACY....I'm with Matt on this:

Look, look, it is fun to get all upset about Democrats who'll accept a "stable" Iraq rather than a "democratic" one, but you've got to ask yourself a thing or two. Would I rather have a stable Iraq or would I rather have a failed state Iraq that the president of the United States calls a democracy? This is your choice. If you like what's behind door number two (i.e., Afghanistan) then you really ought to vote for George W. Bush. He's really good at talking about democracy-promotion. Way better than John Kerry. The only Democrat who even gets the text in the right neighborhood is Joe Biden and his delivery is nothing compared to Bush's. And not only is Bush good at talking about democracy promotion, he's really good at calling Afghanistan a democracy, and really, really good at pretending that Baathist hitman Iyad Allawi is an emerging liberal democrat.

I'll confess that I don't entirely know what to think of all this, but I do know that trash talking John Kerry over the fact that his speeches aren't as dishonest as Bush's in the area of democracy promotion is just frivolous.

Here's the problem in a nutshell: assuming that it's possible to impose democracy by military force in the first place, it strikes me that this is a task that (a) requires stability as a first step and (b) probably requires a military presence for at least a decade and quite possibly more like 40-50 years. In the real world, though, the Bush administration has shown neither the inclination nor the talent to accomplish (a) and the American public almost certainly won't stand for (b). In other words, it's quite likely an impossible dream.

Now, I don't know this for sure. I don't suppose anyone does. And I'll admit that there are times when the neocon fascination with a "reverse domino theory" appeals to me. Maybe we can install democracy in Iraq! And maybe this really will become a shining example for other Arab states! That would be very cool.

But the neocons don't have an especially good track record on these grand ideas of theirs, and if they want the American public to buy into this they need to make a serious case that it can work at a cost that's acceptable. Basically, anyone who thinks that America should accept nothing less than full-on democracy in Iraq needs to provide several things:

  • Some compelling historical evidence that this has a chance of working. Examples from the last two or three decades would be preferable.

  • An acknowledgement of how long this will take, how much it will cost, and how many American lives will be lost in the process.

  • A believable plan that explains how we're going to end up with a democratic Iraq. It needs to be something that persuades not just the wonks, but average Americans and average foreigners as well. Because unless public opinion buys into this, it's not going to happen.

In the meantime, let's not mock stability. I suspect the citizens of Iraq wouldn't.

Kevin Drum 12:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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