After Saddam?

by | Feb 18, 2003 | POLITICS

Outsiders wonder if the U.N. Security Council will endorse Washington’s goal of toppling Saddam Hussein. But policy insiders assume an American war and an American victory, followed by Iraq’s rehabilitation. For insiders, the main issue is the extent of U.S. ambition in the Arabic-speaking countries after that’s all done. This foreshadows the debate likely to […]

Outsiders wonder if the U.N. Security Council will endorse Washington’s goal of toppling Saddam Hussein. But policy insiders assume an American war and an American victory, followed by Iraq’s rehabilitation.

For insiders, the main issue is the extent of U.S. ambition in the Arabic-speaking countries after that’s all done. This foreshadows the debate likely to dominate foreign-policy circles for decades: What should be America’s role in the world?

Let’s eavesdrop.

In the ambitious corner stands Middle East specialist Fouad Ajami, a Lebanese immigrant and professor at Johns Hopkins University. Writing in the liberal-leaning Foreign Affairs, he comments scathingly about the reigning political culture in the Arab countries (“the belligerence and self-pity in Arab life, its retreat from modernist culture and its embrace of conspiracy theories”). He sees in the vigorous exercise of American power the best chance for improvement: “No great apologies ought to be made for America’s ‘unilateralism.’ The region can live with and use that unilateralism.”

Ajami wants American will and prestige to tip the scales “in favor of modernity and change” and calls on Washington to aim high. “Above and beyond toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein and dismantling its deadly weapons, the driving motivation of a new American endeavor in Iraq and in neighboring Arab lands should be modernizing the Arab world.”

Only a successful U.S. military campaign in Iraq will embolden those Arabs who seek “deliverance from retrogression and political decay,” so he hopes the war will be fought “with the promise that the United States is now on the side of reform.”

Over in the cautious corner stands strategist Andrew J. Bacevich, a retired Army colonel and now professor at Boston University whose article, evocatively titled “Don’t Be Greedy!” appeared in the conservative National Review. Bacevich admonishes the Bush administration to confine its attention to Iraq itself and not make grand plans to bring democracy to the Arabs.

He dismisses these as “utterly preposterous” on four grounds:

* “Arabs have little affinity for democracy” due to historical, cultural and religious factors.

* Arabs understand that freedom implies disposable marriages, sexual license and abortion on demand as much as it does self-government and the rule of law – and they decline the package.

* Efforts to inculcate democratic values will find few allies from within Arab societies, where “advocates for liberal values constitute at best a small minority.”

* Advocates for an ambitious program point to Germany and Japan as models, forgetting the “protracted, ugly and unpopular” U.S. failures in the Philippines, Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and South Vietnam. The Arab countries will more likely fit the latter pattern than the former.

Instead of trying to bring the Arabs into ideological sympathy with the United States, Bacevich argues, the goal should be to improve their governments’ behavior. “Concepts like parliaments or women’s rights may strike Saudi princes as alien. On the other hand, they have no difficulty grasping the significance of a B-2 bomber or a carrier battle group.”

More broadly, Bacevich sees this approach as a proper “modesty and self-restraint” in U.S. foreign policy.

Both Bacevich and Ajami make compelling arguments – and their articles should be read in full – but this analyst sides with Ajami. Addressing Bacevich’s four points:

* Japan had about as much “affinity for democracy” in 1945 as the Arabs do today, yet democracy took hold there.

* There is no indication that an open political system inexorably leads to higher divorce rates and the other social changes – again, look at Japan.

* A famous American victory in Iraq and the successful rehabilitation of that country will bring liberals out of the woodwork and generally move the region toward democracy. (Saudi leaders are already leaking their plans to establish electing assemblies, something totally unprecedented in their kingdom.)

* The United States cannot pass up a unique chance to remake the world’s most politically fevered region. Sure, the effort might fail, but not even to try would be a missed opportunity.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell last week said that American success in Iraq “could fundamentally reshape [the Middle East] in a powerful, positive way,” suggesting that even the Bush team’s most cautious member is rightly coming around to the ambitious point of view.

— Originally published in New York Post.

Editor’s Note: Democracy does not mean freedom, but majority rule. For example, under democracy the majoirty can outlaw the protection of individual rights, i.e., such as outlawing the right to an abortion. For the Middle East to become a civilized region, what is not needed is merely the freedom to elect one’s political representatives, but a profound respect for freedom, i.e., individual rights.

Further Comments by Paul Blair: I agree there could be little worse than for us to reestablish dictatorship in Iraq–it would harm our own interests in Iraq and would sell out everyone–not just in Iraq but across the world–who had a hope for freedom. We would be setting our natural allies in the world against us, and giving fuel to those who characterize us as a force for oppression.

But some of what Bacevich says may be truer than Pipes wants to admit. We have seen cases in the world where people have voted themselves into tyranny. Weimar Germany was a democracy.

Both sides miss the false premise at the root of the argument. We should not be talking about bringing “democracy” to the Arabs; the proper name for our system of government is not “democracy.” Our system is not the rule of the majority, or the rule of a minority, or the rule of an individual; it is the rule of law.

In politics, representative government is a derivative issue, not a fundamental. The fundamental is freedom: living under a government whose power is limited by objective laws to the protection of individual rights. Government is not and should not be an agent of majority whim; in a free society the majority does not have the right to do anything it wants. Voting is simply one means of ensuring the government’s accountability, along with checks and balances, a bill of rights, etc. What is important is not which group holds the power, but that this power is rigidly limited and exercised only in conformity with laws whose purpose is the preservation of individuals’ freedom to live their own lives.

There is no such thing as the “right to collective self-determination”–a formulation implying that the biggest gang has the right to do whatever it wants with the lives of everybody else. Such a “democracy” will inevitably descend into group warfare and anarchy. If we don’t want that to happen in postwar Iraq (or Afghanistan, or Palestine) then we shouldn’t establish such a system in the first place.

If Iraq is not ready for self-government, so be it; we should then impose the severest, most stringent laissez-faire capitalism on that defeated country until such time as it becomes capable of governing itself. Think Hong Kong, or India–though unlike the British colonialists, we should aim to withdraw at the earliest feasible opportunity. We don’t have a right to impose such a system, you say? What do you mean by “rights”? There is no such thing as the “right” to live under a government that does not respect individual rights.

Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and a columnist for both the New York Post and The Jerusalem Post. His website,, offers an archive of his published writings and a si

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

Related articles

No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.

Pin It on Pinterest