Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Mother of All Rationalizations

Any discussion of whether or not the invasion of Iraq is the first step to some sort of Disneyland of Democracy in the Middle East must begin by noting that this wasn’t why we went to war. The Bush administration sold the invasion as a matter of national defense because Saddam Hussein was in bed with al-Qaeda and would be ready, willing, and able to hand over nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons to terrorists at any time. None of that was true. And not even the staunchest of neocons would argue that the American people would have willingly sent their sons and daughters to fight and die in Iraqi streets for the hazy promise of democratizing the Arab world. Bringing democracy to the Middle East is the Mother of All Rationalizations.

But let’s pretend that Colin Powell had gone to the United Nations not to present nonexistent evidence of Iraqi WMDs, but to argue that democratizing the region was so essential that preemptive invasion was warranted. Let’s pretend George Bush never suggested there might be a “mushroom cloud” looming over an American city if the U.S. didn’t act, but that generations of Iraqis might live under a dictatorship unless we invaded. And let’s further imagine that the American public believed all this and supported military action for these purposes. Should we be celebrating?

Mark Hyman says yes. He marvels at the changes in the Middle East over the last three years, citing events in Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, and Libya as examples of the wonders wrought by Bush foreign policy.

If you ever wanted a textbook example of the post hoc fallacy in action, here you have it. It would be wonderful if we lived in a world so simple that all it took was one tiny little war to transform an entire region that’s been embroiled in strife for centuries (if not millennia) into happy, shiny democracies. But that’s not the case.

To the extent progress has been made, it’s due in large measure to events outside U.S. influence. True, there’s been greater dialog between Israel and the Palestinians of late, but I’m guessing that probably has more to do with the passing of a certain gentleman with a grizzled beard and a penchant for checkered headwear than it does with the Stars and Stripes flying over Baghdad International Airport.

Lebanon? It was the violent death of a beloved public figure that led to the demonstrations against Syrian occupatoin, not peaceful Iraqi elections. And don’t look now, but those pro-Syrian rallies are dwarfing those dubbed the “cedar revolution.” Should Bush get “credit” for those as well?

But what about Libya? That Qaddafi fella sure gave up his WMDs when we kicked Saddam’s butt, didn’t he? Well, not really. Qaddafi’s move was the end result of several years of U.S. diplomatic (not military) action, begun by none other than Bill Clinton. But don’t take my word for it.
A concise expert analysis of the Libyan disarmament (and its lack of any connection to the Iraq invasion) can be had from the Brookings Institution, courtesy of Martin S. Indyk, Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

In Egypt, it would be nice to think Mubarak’s claim that there will be open elections will materialize into something real, but indications are that this is little more than a stop-gap measure to consolidate his own power. For a detailed analysis of this,
head on back to the folks at the Saban Center.

The current edition of The Nation has a number of excellent pieces on the hopes for democracy in the Middle East (and the cynical and dangerous linking of these hopes to Bush policy in Iraq), including an
editorial on the specifics of Lebanon and Naomi Klein’s thoughtful analysis of the general situation in the Middle East vis-à-vis the “Bush doctrine.”

The conclusion reached by these authors is basic common sense: most of whatever progress has been made in the region has been in spite of, rather than because of, events in Iraq.

But that’s not the important issue. Debating who does or doesn’t get credit is an academic exercise. What’s more important is using the past as a basis for future decisions. What makes naïve and simplistic analyses such as Hyman’s so dangerous is that it encourages the belief that more belligerence and isolated U.S. military action is what the Middle East needs more of. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The invasion has turned Iraq into a haven for terrorists, alienated potential allies, galvanized anti-American sentiment, and caused even many moderates in the region to suspect that the word “democracy” coming from American mouths means little more than “hegemony.” Not an atmosphere that lends itself to productive political change, at least from an American point of view.

What’s needed in the Middle East (and what’s worked, to the extent anything has in the past) is that quality so lacking (and in fact derided) by Bush and his neocon pals: nuance. The complexities of forging democracies out of the ethnic and religious patchwork that makes up the crazy quilt we call the Middle East are enormous. Keep in mind, for example, that even in the much vaunted Iraqi elections, large numbers of Sunni Muslims refused to participate, and the situation is, if anything, even more complicated in Lebanon.

But let’s return from whence we came. Even if the Romper Room-level analysis of Hyman and his ilk were right on the money, and all the Arab world needed to become the new Athens was a swift kick in the keister from the 82nd Airborne, the ugly truth would remain: the Bush administration lied to the American people to win support for a war that has killed tens of thousands, and is now hoping all of us come down with a case of collective amnesia about how the whole thing started.

But we remember.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


At 11:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another great counterpoint Ted!

Hyman's comments are just another example of how the right-wing corporate media machine works with this Neo-Facist administration to manipulate public perception of events to create a new reality for the sheeple.

No longer is it just a military industrial complex, it is now a media-military-industrial-complex.

Thanks for all you do Ted and keep on bustin' Hyman.

Mike B. in SC

At 11:04 AM, Blogger Yoel.Ben-Avraham said...

"dialog between Israel and the Palestinians of late" Did I hear "dialog"?

We lowly foot-soilders are slugging away at it on our own terms!

If you are interested in promoting dialog between a Jew and a Palestinian Arab, you must visit "Between Shilo & Turmos Ayya". I and a local Arab started publishing our months old dialog in which we explore each other's perceptions of the other's society and our common experiences. We look forward to your comments and questions!


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