Such comments and their likes are unfortunately not uncommon among some Americans and Iraqis regarding the US-led invasion of Iraq. Whether American or Iraqi, pro-war or anti-war, one fallacy lies at the bottom of their reasoning: that somehow "democracy" had anything to do with the Iraq war. Not that possessing WMDs was ever -- objectively -- enough reason to subject the whole of Iraq to so much senseless destruction; but since it became clear that the only real threat Iraq posed was to itself, the rhetoric shifted into saving Iraqis from themselves by bringing onto them good old (well, in human history it isn't actually that old) democracy.
But the fact is, democracy was never the case. Not in Iraq and certainly not in the region. Not in 2003 and most definitely not before that. After the fall of Baghdad, there were no serious moves to install democracy. Instead, US policies were channelled to inflame the sectarian divide. After 12 years of merciless US-backed sanctions, all Iraq needed was one small push to descend into total chaos.
Yet many Iraqis still waited to see what the US would offer. What they got was complete absence of security, hundreds of thousands of jobs losses, and death and torture at the hands of US forces with the help of some "favoured" Iraqis. That's where the seeds of sectarianism had been sown. Instead of promoting reconciliation and unity, the US played a classic "divide and rule" game in Iraq and drew the new Iraq -- politically -- along sectarian lines. Militarily, Iraqis who had friends or family members killed or tortured by US forces in the presence (or under the advice) of other Iraqis weren't always strong enough to punish the Americans so they took vengeance on their fellow Iraqis. The result? A cycle of vengeance that could have been averted.
Meanwhile, on the "democracy" front, we had one segment of the population relatively prepared for campaigning whilst the other segment was barely struggling to stay alive let alone take part in elections. Who would they vote for? How can you have fair elections when all your potential candidates are in hiding for fear of being killed or detained and tortured? Voting may (or may not) have been free, but who would one vote for if his/her choice is not on the list that is approved by the powers that be? Adding to the confusion, Iraqis were requested to approve a Constitution that few had even had the chance to read, let alone contemplate.
"Imported" from the US and released only five days before its referendum date, the new Constitution caused further divisions in Iraq. In the meantime, new laws continued to be passed despite strong objection from a large segment of the population that was never properly represented in parliament because there never had been free elections in the first place. All this was taking place with direct US involvement, with a mainly favourable outcome for the war architects. Big money was being made by the invasion's supporters while ordinary Iraqis were being killed by many unexplainable attacks. Some of a sectarian nature, others just for money; some blamed on Iran or Israel, while others blamed on Al-Qaeda (which only came to Iraq post-2003 invasion) or on the US military (frequently accused of secretly targeting civilians to discredit the insurgency).
The absolute truth may never be known, but one thing is certain: the US, as an occupying power, was under obligation, according to international law, to protect Iraqis. We all know how well that went. If it can't -- or is unwilling to -- assume such responsibility the US should not have been there in the first place. The result was to trigger a "sectarian domino effect," in addition to its own acts of murder and torture. Washington and its allies in right-wing think thanks and its mainstream media experts cannot talk of "mistakes" happening when the average person in the street predicted that, at the very least, total chaos would befall Iraq in the event of an invasion. How can pro-invasion so-called "experts," "analysts," and "intelligence" fail to foresee what an average bricklayer in Tunisia predicted?
Charity begins at home
In fact, how could the invading countries "export" democracy to Iraq while they were fighting democratic values at home? Why would an Iraqi believe that the US is bringing him/her democracy when he/she sees American citizens gradually being deprived of their rights and freedoms by the Bush administration? They also ignored the loud voices of their own people across the universe protesting against the Iraq war.
Saddam Hussein was accused of torture, detaining suspects indefinitely, spying on his own people, silencing journalists critical of his policies, and inciting fear in the hearts of his opponents. And how does that differ -- relatively -- from the actions of George W. Bush, the "decider in chief"? Can anyone say -- with a straight face -- that Saddam was more of a threat to the American people than Bush himself? Yet US and European right-wingers, and their "political pawns" in the Middle East continue to speak favorably of so-called "democracy and freedom interventions" in the region.
Yes, democracy should be vigorously sought in the Middle East (by the people of the region) and yes, despite many shortfalls, Americans and Europeans have every reason to be proud of their democracies. But the pro-war establishment has no right to boast of democracy because whatever rights and freedoms western societies enjoy today, they were the direct result of people fighting or challenging a similar-natured establishment in former eras. Today's anti-war camp is the legitimate inheritor of women's-rights and civil-rights movements. They are the rightful heirs of the anti-slavery and later the anti-empire heroes.
The people of the Middle East could learn more about modern democracy from the anti-war camp, and not from former president Bush and his "coalition of the willing," the very anti-Christ of democracy. What has the Bush administration really done to support democracy in the region?
Despite lip service to democracy in the Middle East now and then, American foreign policy has always backed Arab dictators to remain in power and oppress their own people. These "puppet presidents" or "drag-queen kings" are kept in power -- with US weapons and intelligence -- for as long as they continue to serve American interests, not those of their own peoples.
Although mainstream media is not equally kind to them, the truth is often grossly distorted. These leaders are always much more liberal than their predominantly conservative societies on social and religious issues. They would only draw a red line when their hold on power is shaken or challenged. But as Bush does with democracy, they often pay lip service to moral values. And if you believe Bush then you might as well believe them too.
War on words