Sunday, March 06, 2005

# Posted 11:53 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YES, THAT WAS A STUPID COMMENT ON MY PART: Via e-mail, Kevin Drum points out the ridiculousness of my rhetorical observation to the effect that
Maybe Bush did have hopes of a leaving Iraq be after installing an interim government led by Chalabi. But did Bush ever suggest that Iraq shouldn't be democratic?
Taken literally, that is a completely idiotic line of argumentation. If Bush had said nothing either for or against Iraqi democracy, that would be essentially the same as condoning an authoritarian takeover. Presidential silence is often just as powerful as presidential rhetoric.

But Bush did say something very clear and very early about democracy in Iraq. In a major speech on February 26, 2003, Bush declared that
The United States has no intention of determining the precise form of Iraq's new government. That choice belongs to the Iraqi people. Yet, we will ensure that one brutal dictator is not replaced by another. All Iraqis must have a voice in the new government, and all citizens must have their rights protected...

The nation of Iraq -- with its proud heritage, abundant resources and skilled and educated people -- is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom.
OxBlog argued at the time that Bush would not have said these things if he were not serious about promoting democracy in postwar Iraq (at that time, still a hypothetical notion). In contrast, Kevin wrote that
Even though I'm only barely in favor of the war on its own terms, if it could be used as a way of promoting democracy and human rights in the Mideast, that's enough to kick me well into the pro-war camp. The problem is, George Bush has given us precious little reason to think that he really cares about this.
Shortly thereafter, Kevin departed from the pro-war camp. But the story doesn't end there. Although definitive evidence is hard to come by, it seems the Bush administration hoped to quickly install a post-war government led by Ahmad Chalabi and then pull out of Iraq. Although not literally contradicting the President's democratic aspriations, such a plan would probably have done very little to promote democracy in Iraq. Thus, even if hindsight hasn't been kind to Kevin's lack of faith in the man from Texas, Kevin's doubts were not unjustified.

Moreover, as Kevin suggests, there were two additional phases of US policy in Iraq after the failure of the Chalabi government to materialize. Plan B involved a long-term occupation. Plan C is the democracy promotion plan, adopted only because Ayatollah Sistani forced our hand. On the basis of this chronology, Kevin argued recently that "Bush actively opposed Iraqi elections."

I reject that chronology completely. After the manifest failure of the Chalabi plan in the weeks after the invasion, the United States did settle on a long-term occupation but with the clear and explicit of objective of promoting democracy in Iraq. As he had since February, Bush made that point both publicly and repeatedly. And on the ground, Paul Bremer made it clear that his purpose was to achieve the President's stated objectives.

It is true that the administration would have preferred to wait considerably longer before holding national elections. But that was not because of any opposition to democracy. It was because even liberal democracy promotion experts such as Tom Carothers insisted that holding national elections too early would promote extremism in Iraq.

I'm not saying Bush listened to Carothers. Rather, I'm saying that the consensus on this point was so broad that there are no grounds for suggesting that delaying elections reflected any sort of opposition to elections.

Or to be more precise, the consesus was broad in Washington and non-existent in Iraq. The Shi'ites wanted elections as soon as possible and the US could not resist their demands. But all that changed was the schedule, not the objective. In no way, as Kevin suggests, did the Shi'ites, led by Sistani force Bush to abandon his opposition to democracy. What Sistani forced was a tactical adjustment.

The bottom line is this: The way I phrased my argument in yesterday's post was flat out stupid. But what matters is that Bush consistently and explicity supported the promotion of democracy in Iraq. The Chalabi plan conflicted with that objective, but was quickly abandoned. Shortly thereafter, the conventional wisdom emerged that Iraq was a quagmire. But since Bush doesn't read the New York Times, he never figured that out.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias responds to the same post as Kevin, writing that
The post is about 75 percent tired slurs and cheap, ill-informed psychoanalysis of myself and others, I won't try to rebut the rest.
I suggested a partisan bias on behalf of those I was criticizing. Since biases are subconscious, I guess that counts as some sort of psychoanalysis. But I'd like to see how long Matt can go without suggesting that partisan bias is responsible for the mistakes that he likes to point out.

Oh, and Atrios is disappointed that I didn't include him with all of the "smart liberals" whose observations about Lebanon I criticized. Curious that.
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