Iraq Last Best Hope for Arab Modernity?
Ralph Peters, a stalwart supporter of the Iraq War effort as well as a consistent critic of the Bush administration’s handling of the war, is just about ready to declare defeat. He argues, though, that the real loser is not the United States but the Arab world:
Yet, for all our errors, we did give the Iraqis a unique chance to build a rule-of-law democracy. They preferred to indulge in old hatreds, confessional violence, ethnic bigotry and a culture of corruption. It appears that the cynics were right: Arab societies can’t support democracy as we know it. And people get the government they deserve.
For us, Iraq’s impending failure is an embarrassment. For the Iraqis — and other Arabs — it’s a disaster the dimensions of which they do not yet comprehend. They’re gleeful at the prospect of America’s humiliation. But it’s their tragedy, not ours.
Iraq was the Arab world’s last chance to board the train to modernity, to give the region a future, not just a bitter past. The violence staining Baghdad’s streets with gore isn’t only a symptom of the Iraqi government’s incompetence, but of the comprehensive inability of the Arab world to progress in any sphere of organized human endeavor. We are witnessing the collapse of a civilization. All those who rooted for Iraq to fail are going to be chastened by what follows.
Peters’ criticisms of the way the counterinsurgency has been fought are diametrically opposed to mine. He’s from the William Tecumseh Sherman-Harry Summers-Michael Scheuer school of overwhelming application of force to show the enemy the hard hand of war whereas I’m from the Mao Zedong-John Nagl-Robert Kaplan school of counter-insurgents as quiet professionals.
Still, he’s on to something here. Just as establishing a successful democratic state in Iraq would have spurred imitators in the region, failing to do so makes it much less likely that other tyrants will be toppled. Most obviously, because it would virtually assure that no Western coalition form any time soon to intervene in such a situation; indeed, that may be the case at this point even if things turn around. More importantly, it would it bolster the fear of many that democracy means bloody chaos will discourage indigenous movements.