Was Iraq a Fool's Errand?

Smith, Tony
November 2004
Foreign Affairs;Nov/Dec2004, Vol. 83 Issue 6, p130
The article presents a response to the article "What Went Wrong in Iraq," by Larry Diamond in the September/October 2004 issue of "Foreign Affairs," and a counter response by Diamond. Iraq lacks any of the preconditions academics generally accept as being necessary for democratization to succeed. It has no middle class to speak of independent from the state; oil revenues, the life-line of any Iraqi regime, are notorious for their ability to centralize rather than democratize power; the country has no tradition of limited or responsible government; national identity is weak in the face of rival religious or ethnic loyalties; regional neighbors will do what they can to undermine whatever democratizing movements exist; and the democrats themselves lack a figure such as Nelson Mandela or Kim Dae Jung who could give them leadership. How could someone of Diamond's theoretical sophistication not have seen such shortcomings? The answer, I suspect, lies in the Faustian bargain many liberals made: they would support U.S. imperialism for the sake of fulfilling their self-appointed democratizing mission. Diamond Replies. It may surprise Tony Smith to know that I opposed going to war in Iraq last year. Indeed, I publicly warned (in the January 2003 Hoover Digest) that the greatest danger facing the United States was not Saddam Hussein's weapons programs but "imperial overreach and the global wave of anti-Americanism that it is already provoking." I worried that the United States would be perceived throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds as invading Iraq only because it wanted to control its oil and dominate the region. Still, I reject the characterization of the war as "imperialist aggression." The Bush administration was convinced that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and that if it did not take military action soon, Saddam would break out of the international sanctions box and once again threaten the region and the United States.


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