Monday, October 02, 2006

À l'époque

In response to my claim that "In the unlikely event democracy held [in Iraq], it would necessarily be in conflict with external occupiers," Fred S. issues this challenge,, "This is totally an argument crafted in hindsight. Who articulated it a l'epoque?"

Personally, I first got interested in the tension between democracy in the Muslim world and both liberalism and Western interests at the time of the French-backed coup in Algeria in 1991. It was certainly an old theme already among IR types and Middle East observers.

But to give one example, I will point Fred to this exchange from the summer of 2003 in Inroads, a Canadian public policy journal. Morley, taking the anti-war side, makes the following comments:

Abandoning deterrence in favour of removing every unfriendly and undemocratic regime cannot make the United States or its allies safer. It can only have the effect of globalizing every local conflict, as the occupier necessarily takes sides in the ethnic and political divisions endemic to the human condition.
The difficulty is that occupying powers, even those initially greeted as liberators, inevitably have to choose between local clients who are loyal to them and genuine representatives of the people. Virtually without exception, occupiers choose the former. As a result, the enemies of those local clients become the enemies of the occupying power, whose nationals then become targets. This, rather than military defeat, was why France left Algeria and the United States left Vietnam.

Moreover, the natural leaders of an anti-occupation intifada in Iraq represent a far greater security threat to western nationals than the cynical and degenerate party-state the Coalition has removed. Ba'ath ideology, with its Arab nationalism and socialist phraseology, has long since lost any ability to motivate self-sacrifice: it survived through fear and corruption. But Islamic fundamentalism -- the ideology best placed to lead the anti-occupation struggle -- is demonstrably capable of mobilizing adolescent idealism in the cause of murdering westerners.


Human rights do not flourish under conditions of instability and war, or under occupation. Soldiers, particularly in the American military tradition, are not trained to be either culturally or politically sensitive. Occupation, including occupation justified on humanitarian grounds, generates cultural miscommunication at best and racist dehumanization of the occupied people at worst. These conditions are fertile ground for atrocities and repression. U.S.-U.K. military occupation will never be as brutal as the Ba'ath regime, but what comes next, particularly if it is based on an Islamist ideology, may be. After all, the displaced Ba'ath regime was itself the product of a historical process set in motion by forgotten bureaucrats in the British Colonial Office with far broader minds and more sympathy for Arab culture than Bremer and Rumsfeld.

More generally, the idea of using invasion and occupation as a vehicle to spread democratic self-rule (as opposed to a stopgap against genocide) is an illusion, since home rule is a necessary, if clearly not sufficient, condition of popular self-rule.

If you want condescension, check out the opening of Pratt and Leon's response:

It is well known that Canadians dislike the idea of power politics. Like pious puritans who prefer not to acknowledge the realities of sex, Canadians avoid the subjects of power, national security and war.

That's not fair to the Puritans, who invented the concept of the companionate heterosexual marriage. I'll leave it to the reader to decide which side better acknowledged the realities of war in the Iraq debate.

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