Janet Daley has an excellent piece in The Daily Telegraph on how our ideals are becoming another casualty in the war in Iraq:
The epithet may have been novel but the argument – that the shambles in Iraq has been a consequence of the United States and Britain imperiously choosing to inflict democracy on people who were (in the old paternalist phrase) “not ready for it” – has become pretty much the received wisdom. It is intriguing to see how many politicians and commentators seem to accept this patronising colonial analysis.
What, after all, does it amount to? That some countries are better left with their genocidal dictatorships in place. That what the US and Britain did in Iraq was to foist freedom on people who could not be expected to appreciate or make proper use of it. Outcome: chaos, sectarian warfare and a total breakdown of social order. Lesson: keep your political moral standards at home. However right and beneficent you believe your values to be – however much they have brought unprecedented peace and prosperity to the nations where they have been embraced – you must not be so arrogant as to wish to disseminate them in foreign climes where their principles are scarcely understood.
If this is taken to be the message of the Iraq war and its aftermath, then we are well and truly doomed: not simply to impotence in the face of criminal regimes, but to disillusionment with our own best political impulses. What failed in Iraq was not democracy, or the popularity of it. The Iraqis put their amazingly brave heads above the parapet every time they are given an opportunity to vote on anything. What failed was the bizarre and unforgivable Pentagon experiment “Invasion Lite”, which dismantled the apparatus of civil order without taking responsibility for replacing it.
I think Ms. Daley has a very good point. The idea that somehow democracy is only for certain (read white) people never had much currency to me. If we accept a doctrine of universal human rights as an absolute, we can’t argue that keeping people locked into tyrannical regimes is at all morally acceptable. Either human rights are universal, or we’re admitting that certain people don’t have the same moral worth as others. The most noble aspect of the Bush Administration is in its push, even if inconsistent, towards a more universal promotion of democratic values in American foreign policy.
Daley is quite correct in stating that if the lesson of the Iraq War will be that democracy doesn’t work, then everything we profess is a sham. What makes the suffering of the Iraqi people less than the suffering of those in Darfur? Why do we care about democracy in Russia and China when we’ve already stated that democracy in Iraq is untenable? What lesson will we send to pro-democracy groups across the globe — that the world supports you, unless the stakes become too high, in which case we’ll leave you to your deaths?
The civilized world leads from example. What example are we now showing the millions who yearn for freedom? That we are willing to pay on a certain price for our ideals? That we’ll topple a regime but not bother to fix what we broke? If that’s the lesson we wish to send, then we can never speak of democracy and human rights again. The UN should be disbanded, and we shouldn’t concern ourselves with the suffering of others — after all, we wouldn’t want to be “imperialists” by forcing our values upon another — even if our values are things like “genocide is wrong.”
Daley makes a very astute point about the cynicism of our politics:
I, and I assume Lord Saatchi, would define ideological politics as consisting of positions which arise from systematic beliefs and arguments which are internally consistent with one another. To be ideological in the Saatchi sense is not to be quasi-theological, or even rigid and unbending. It is simply to have some overarching sense of what you are in politics for – of your reason for seeking power at all. Nothing is more profoundly disillusioning to the people whom you propose to govern than the absence of that sense of over-riding purpose.
And perversely, it is this absence which has become a point of pride in the climate of post-modern irony that is today’s political weather. Lord Saatchi quotes a party press spokesman as saying, when asked about his party’s philosophy: “If you want philosophy, read Descartes.” So there it is: cynicism as a source of pride. And here we are: left with pragmatism which is sometimes construed as a respectable credo of conciliation and rationality but which, in effect, discards the possibility of intellectual integrity.
She’s right. The discussion in Iraq barely considered the plight of the Iraqi people, who are suffering the anarchy brought about by the foreign states we’re now hoping to fix the problem we created. Like it or not, we created this situation. To merely wipe our hands of it in the name of expediency is unacceptable.
Conservatives are notoriously adverse to utopianism, but the idea that we should forget our core values and cling to power for power’s sake, or worse yet sacrifice our values for mere convenience is not at all consistent with conservative political philosophy.
The core question for liberals and conservatives, anti-war activists and war supporters, Americans and Britons alike is this: do we still believe in democracy? If so, do we have an obligation to defend it in Iraq? And if we do, how far should we take that obligation? Should we betray that obligation, can we truly say we support democracy?
We are on the precipice of compromising our most sacred values in the name of political expedience. Millions of Americans, Britons, and others have died to safeguard democracy and liberty across the ages. Now, we’re not willing to continue the struggle. If we falter now, we won’t just lose the spirit of liberty and democracy in Baghdad, but we’ll lose it in London and Washington as well.