Five things we have learned from the Iraq War.
1. One cannot impose a democracy on an unwilling people.
The examples of Japan and Germany after the Second World War should not be universal examples used for all situations. When Bush tells an American audience that all people wish to live in a world where their children’s lives are improved, this cannot be taken at face value and without question.
Is it true? In areas of the world, for whatever reason, where parents revere as martyrs the sons and daughters who act as suicide bombers? Is it a human constant, or applicable to only a percentage of the world? This may be only a Western value and not a world value. Is it even true for all of our citizens?
It seems like a logical and “right” thing to believe, but is it based on fact or simply a desire to believe in some imagined link we share? On the other hand, why should it NOT be true? Why should be true in the West only now and not 500 years ago when Europe had its children’s crusades?
I feel the reason is rise of fundamentalist religion. These religions stress the importance of the afterlife taking prominence over the developments here on Earth. Fundamentalist, both Christian or Moslem, adhere to this idea. To build a church is much more important than the construction of a library because feeding the mind is far less important than purifying the soul. In fact, education of the mind is thought of as a tool for the Devil to infiltrate and infest the soul of the unwary. Therefore, anything done on this planet, on this spiritual level, and during our short span must be directed at the development of one’s eternal soul. Additionally, the calamities and disasters one endures in one’s life are merely the tests arranged by God and, for this reason, must be accepted without question.
Therefore to send one’s child off to death in the name of a higher good makes perfectly good sense to a parent with this background. It may seem quite abhorrent to our sense of values but until such time as all peoples of the world are in agreement of these issues, such enterprises as “spreading democracy” are probably doomed to failure.
2. Democratic governments must never enter into war without deep contemplation of the effects, within and without. Few conditions warrant attack on a sovereign nation without a thorough discussion of the costs, aim and possible unintended side effects. A war must have the consent of its people or, at least, the consent of the representatives of the people.
Without an enforced conscription providing larger military in terms of manpower, a superpower can topple a regime without much fuss, can wreck its infrastructure and install new yet powerless management as a puppet regime. However, it cannot effectively hold a sustainable presence inside the country (and therefore dominating influence) needed to occupy or refurbish a society, such as Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran.
And enforced conscription is only a remote politically viable possibility in Modern America or any liberal democracy, due to the fact, democracies are normally slow in recognizing threats. Liberal democracies provide its citizens with potent means of dissent, either through the election process, public demonstration or the free and critical press.
Additionally, an increase in taxes- (or whatever source of monetary support) needed to finance any long term option of occupation can not be maintained in a country with strict checks and balances. Without, at least, the option of a long term commitment, any enemy can simply choose a waiting game, in which, the cost of the war will eventually create internal pressures inside the superpower.
(It is important to remember that the final chapter in the Iraq War has yet to be written. And “Mission Accomplished” is a nice but empty phrase to use even after this duration.)
The transparency of a democracy, from debates on the merits of any war or conflict or occupation to the discussion of expenditures for the military all provide any enemy to the state with a real-time lead.
Simply put, the nature of a Modern democracy- either the consent of its citizens and the openness of the internal working of the State discourages it from becoming an aggressive superpower. Only by perverting underlying precepts can governments make modern warfare of an aggressive, rather than a defensive nature.
3. The concept of “superpower” is, in itself, dangerous.
The term “superpower” in a liberal democracy is a very misleading one and ultimately a dangerous illusion for the unwise. Why? The term encourages leaders to consider the option of attack without a careful contemplation of the effects and long term successful of any military operations. Diplomacy, in this light, is a sign of weakness because discussion and negotiation implies necessity. A leader of a superpower does not need to sit down with the enemy and compromise on any of its principles. Our might makes us right and discussion suggests to the enemy that we do not fully believe in our ideas.
But this was never true. Eisenhower and Kennedy both met with Nikita Khrushchev and achieved nothing of substance. They were forced to endure humiliating diatribes of Soviet propaganda but they did so, because they recognized this as part of their jobs. Nixon met with Mao and so began the dawn of a new China. This did not imply any kind of concession. We had no fear of appeasement because it was clear to both our allies and our enemies that we believed in what we said. Reagan, who made many speeches against the Evil Empire, was nevertheless quite willing to travel to the frozen lands of Finland to speak with Mikhail Gorbachev. That step, to meet, sit down and listen and, if necessary to turn and walk away, was the first in a series which led to beginning of the end of the Cold War.
In the final analysis, if both parties take the attitude that negotiation automatically means surrender, then all political problems we face are irresolvable- except by war. After all, if the situation is serious enough to make war over then surely it is serious enough to hold one on one discussions on. Why should any ally believe in our commitment and unity if we do not try every possible path to peace?
The term, “superpower” suggests to the unwise leader that a real coalition of democracies in a joint military action is not necessary or even desirable. Time will be wasted in endless discussion. This was best summed up by “You are either with us or against us” attitude and by the open contempt of White House advisors to any dissenting opinion. The entire WMD fiasco and the merry-go-round of intelligence agencies incestuous quoting one another were all failed attempts to create a coalition amongst our doubtful allies.
4. The effects of failed strategy of the war has led to internal conflicts within the country.
The obvious contempt by administration officials has led to further polarizing effect of questioning dissenters’ patriotism. It has also led to a very noticeable lack of genuine debate and discussion, every attempt seems to lead to name-calling, shouting and argument. Democracy allows us the freedom of speaking our opinions openly, no matter how outrageous, but we are also obligated to listen patiently to those we may not agree with. American’s greatest strength, in my opinion, is its ability decide its way above partisanship.
In Bush’s years, these unelected officials felt above criticism and simply labeled any opinion that opposed their own as wrong, biased or un-American.(as if all Americans were obliged to agree with their government.) This is a failure at the highest level.
Why is it so important? In “The Declaration of Independence” among the truths laid out that our founding fathers thought to be self-evident were that..
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Therefore any leader must seriously consider the dissent of its people when making decision for even our forefathers recognized that governments are established by the consent of its citizens. Landslide victories in national elections are only an extreme and often imperfect example of the "Voice of the People”. A government of, for and by the People is not a concept any leader, sworn to uphold the Constitution, should take as lightly as the outgoing one has.
5. Corrupt leadership can permanently destroy a system of government, leading to anarchy and chaos.
Even a general understanding of the Fall of the Roman Republic can show the wise student, that one powerful and corrupt leader can manipulate- to his own ends- the inherent weaknesses of a system, devastate that system and make any kind of return exceedingly difficult. Julius Caesar rose to power, leading from a republic to an autocracy aimed at driving out all who opposed him, He, in turn, was assassinated in the vain hope of restoring the old system but that system itself could not be repaired. What resulted was far inferior and more dangerous without the appropriate stability for its citizens and the freedoms we treasure in “so-called” democracies.
Nothing I have said here is particular new or revolutionary. That perhaps is the saddest thing: What we have learned from Iraq is how fast we forget what we have learned from the past.