Monday, March 06, 2006

Andrew Sullivan's Iraq War mea culpa

Andrew Sullivan in Time, finally taking some responsibility on behalf of the typewriter-class for leading us into the war:
The specter of Iraq teetering closer to civil war and disintegration has forced a reckoning. ... In retrospect, neoconservatives (and I fully include myself) made three huge errors. The first was to overestimate the competence of government, especially in very tricky areas like WMD intelligence. ... The second error was narcissism. America's power blinded many of us to the resentments that hegemony always provokes. ... The final error was not taking culture seriously enough. There is a large discrepancy between neoconservatism's skepticism of government's ability to change culture at home and its naiveté when it comes to complex, tribal, sectarian cultures abroad.
It is an unbelievable relief to see this in print from Andrew. I have tremendous respect for him, but that respect has always been tempered by his unrealistic belief that democracy can be brought by war, or the far more naive sentiment that regional Middle Eastern democracies will simply pull themselves up by their bootstraps once Iraq is firmly established down that road, like an absurdly strong (and thus virtually infinitely improbable) fit of Brownian motion of the sort necessary to cause dominos to fall in reverse.

Democracies are not stable. They require constant vigiliance, both against those who wish to consolidate power in just a few hands, and against those who wish to stifle the participation of others. To prop up a democracy, by the actions of a few and without the broad support or undersanding of the people, is like balancing a broom on your nose ... or wrapping a plastic bag around your head.

In contrast, non-agressive authoritarian regimes, if left unchecked, are more stable, not less. Had the National Socialist Party in Germany sat on its laurels after coming to power in the 1930s, had they restrained their flaunting of Versailles to just the Rhineland, and had they felt that a policy of "living space" (Lebensraum) was unnecessary for the recovery of German national pride, would the Allies have stepped in to stop them, even if a smaller, no less horrific Jewish Holocaust had ensued? No, authoritarian governments are the most likely to impose domestic order, the most likely to draw investment and speculation, and they constitute the "strange attractor" towards which all other governments tend.

It is for this that I still find some of Andrew's words frustrating:
What we do know is that for all our mistakes, free elections have been held in a largely Arab Muslim country. We know that the Kurds in the north enjoy freedoms and a nascent civil society that is a huge improvement on the past. We know that the culture of the marsh Arabs in the south is beginning to revive. We know that we have given Iraqis a chance to decide their own destiny through politics rather than murder and that civil war is still avoidable.
Don't get me wrong; I too wish to be optimistic. But I have and have had serious reasons to doubt that the Iraq War will ever lead to a systemic, regional, political makeover.

The Kurds now "enjoy freedoms and a nascent civil society that is a huge improvement on the past"; meanwhile, Sunnis look to be locked out of any meaningful control over regional oil revenues, and it looks as if the biggest benificiary of our war will be Iran. Has there been a net benefit? Can there be a net benefit? Will Maxwell's daemon, or some absurdly strong fit of Brownian motion, do the impossible?

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