Jewish World Review Feb. 2, 2005 / 23 Shevat, 5765
If Bush's war turns out to have worked, was it worth the cost?
Does the Iraq election vindicate President Bush's Iraq policy and the Bush
doctrine of the United States being an active agent for the spread of
freedom and democracy around the world?
The fair-minded answer, even by critics of the policy and the doctrine such
as myself, is: partially.
Certainly, the vote was impressive, and moving.
The United States was founded on the natural law belief that freedom and
democracy are the inherent right of all people. But whether they were the
universal aspiration of all people, as Bush has asserted, was a more open
Some doubted whether Islam, as practiced in the Middle East, was compatible
with secularized self-government, as opposed to submission to clerical
authority in all matters.
The Iraqi vote was a convincing expression of the desire for representative
government. The voter narratives the defiance of threats, the sense of
liberation and hope, the feeling of propitiation for past repression were
a testimony to the transforming power of democracy.
There is, obviously, a long way from this vote and a democratically
governed, secure, stable and united Iraq. But there is reason for optimism
that the country has started down that path.
The most powerful influence in Iraq, Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani,
has opposed direct clerical rule and supported a civil government at least
in some measure independent of clerical control.
There appears to be a commitment among the majority Shiite leadership to
create a government which minority Sunnis and Kurds find acceptable.
The most promising development was the extent to which Iraqis provided for
their own security in the election. The polls were protected by more than
25,000 Iraqi troops, with the United States providing largely unused
standby backup. As the elections approached, local militias started
stepping forward to volunteer to help with Election Day security.
The terrorists have been targeting Iraqis more than Americans. It appears
that a critical tipping point may have been reached, in which Iraqis view
the battle as less between the insurgents and the United States and more
between the insurgents and their own future.
While, again, there is a long way between this election and a broader
democratic movement in the Middle East, this vote and that of the
Palestinians did reverberate. The prospects for democratic reform elsewhere
will undoubtedly improve.
If Iraq becomes a stable, secure democracy, the international view of the
Iraq war will undoubtedly change. The defiance of international opposition
to invasion and the failure to find the precipitating weapons of mass
destruction will give way to the success of the enterprise.
There are many difficult passages yet to negotiate. But if Bush's policy
turns out to have worked, does that make it right?
Success now and in the future shouldn't be the end of the argument as
to whether the Iraq war was a prudent exercise of American force.
The liberation of the Iraq people, particularly if followed by secure and
stable democratic governance, is a wonderful event. But the purpose of the
United States government is to protect the freedom of and provide security
to the American people.
The Iraq war, at least in the short-run, unquestionably makes the United
States more of a terrorist target, not less of one. Islamic terrorists are
inflamed both by U.S. intervention in their lands and by the prospect of
secular democratic governance. So, the cause of their grievance has been
A democratic Middle East would be less likely to spawn terrorism. Bush's
invasion of Iraq may hasten its spread. But there was at least some
indication that democratic change in the Middle East was already occurring
The cost of the region's freedom deficit was beginning to be more widely
acknowledged and discussed. Islam and the ruling elites have to accommodate
modernity or fall further behind.
There was also the alternative strategy of attempting to insulate the
United States further from Middle Eastern geopolitics, making the United
States less of a presence and thus less of a target.
The security of the United States may have been better protected at far
less cost than through the Iraq war. But if Bush hadn't invaded, the Iraqi
people would still be being repressed, murdered and tortured by Saddam
Hussein's regime this week, rather than participating in free elections to
choose a government.
That's a difference even critics should acknowledge and celebrate.
01/28/05: Would a diminishing U.S. global influence actually do us good?
02/27/04: How not to achieve a mandate