The dangers of “democratization”
Leaving aside the uncritical use of those troublesomely vague terms “democracy” and “democratization,” I do not disagree with the desirability of President Bush’s vision of a “democratized” Iraq, or even of a “democratized” Middle East. What I question is its practicability.
Antiwar critics say that Bush in launching a war is launching an empire. In fact, it would be no more imperialistic for the United States to impose a new political regime on a defeated Iraq than it was imperialistic of the United States to erect free political systems in defeated Japan and Germany after World War II. America’s prevailing motive then, as now, was not domination, but safety. Thus when President Truman called for Japan’s unconditional surrender, he made it clear that the United States had no intention to destroy the Japanese nation or to reduce it to a state of permanent subservience. He said that as soon as the Japanese had instituted a government that could live in peace with the rest of the world, America would withdraw its occupying forces and Japan would regain its sovereignty. Which, of course, is exactly what happened, both in Japan and in West Germany.
It is thus wrongheaded of the war opponents to charge the Bush administration with imperialism. Bush is responding rationally to an objective problem in the real world, not yielding to the libidinous urge to possess the world that characterizes empire builders. The fact is that the societies of the Muslim Middle East are swathed in tyranny, backwardness, paranoia, jihadism, and terrorism, and pose a continuing, horrible danger to any society with which they come into contact. In an age of readily available weapons of mass destruction, responsible leadership cannot ignore this churning cauldron of disorder and violence.
Yet the very qualities that make the Arabs and Muslims so troublesome is the very thing that makes Bush’s democratization project so questionable. The difference between the reconstruction of the Axis powers after World War II and the projected reconstruction of the Axis of Evil today is that Germany and Japan were civilizationally advanced, ethnically homogeneous countries with profound habits of order and obedience. By contrast, everything we know about Arab and Muslim societies suggests that they are so rife with sectarian divisions and political and religious fanaticism that no government can survive in those countries except through despotism. The Bush administration and the neoconservatives seem disturbingly blind to these profound tendencies in the Muslim culture, or seem to imagine that they can be easily cured with a little American good will and know-how, backed by military force. I sincerely hope that I am wrong and that the Bush team and the neoconservative optimists are right. But so far I do not see any reason to believe that they are right.