Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 4, 2005
By: Marc Lynch (Abu Aardvark)

Getting to the Point....Kevin says, if I may paraphrase, stop tip-toeing around the edges! I didn't invite you guys here to agree with each other! No more "al-Jazeera this" and "NGOs that"! Answer the question already: "did the Iraq war spur the democratic reforms that we've recently seen sprouting in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East?"

Well, since some of my earlier posts may have gone on a few hundred words too long, let me keep this one short: no.

A little more? OK. In my first post, I agreed that the occupation of Iraq had changed everyone's strategic calculations, and probably had some effect in terms of emboldening some reformers and inhibiting some of the nastier and more overt regime responses. The invasion of Iraq changed things, no doubt about it and at the least put an end to the much-hated and much-abused Iraq sanctions. But its effects on democratic reforms are all second order and indirect. In social science jargon, invading Iraq was neither necessary nor sufficient for democratic reforms in the region.

The occupation didn't introduce the idea of democratic reforms. There were plenty of Arabs demanding such reforms before the Iraq war. They didn't need an American army in Baghdad to want democratic change, a more accountable and transparent government, a freer media, and all the other things they've been demanding for years. They didn't need to see Iraqi elections to demand elections of their own they've been doing so for years.

The occupation of Iraq also hasn't substantially changed their prospects for getting those reforms. Here's a point where I do disagree with Dan. I don't think that the "demonstration effect" of an Iraqi democracy (even if there were such a thing) is really all that significant. Local factors matter far more in each Arab country. And yesterday I laid out some of the reasons why I expect those nasty little weasels called "Arab regimes" to fight hard to ride out whatever storm there may be.

And don't forget, the lessons of Iraq remain pretty ambiguous. The elections were an exciting moment, but for most of the occupation period the Arab view of Iraq has been (fairly or unfairly) one of an unpopular occupation, intense violence, Abu Ghraib, and so on. The elections helped, but let's face it there's still a violent insurgency going on, the elections led to months of political stalemate, and the thrill of the elections wore off a while ago. I don't think many Arabs look at Iraq as something to emulate.

Finally, since the war greatly increased hostility towards America in the region, and increased doubts about American intentions and credibility, it probably has complicated rather than helped American efforts to directly promote reforms.

Over to you, Dan!

Marc Lynch (Abu Aardvark) 12:08 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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