As we enter the second month of widespread protests in the Middle East, it’s important to get some perspective on the situation. The spread of democracy, of course, is a good thing. Commentators and analysts all over are doing a much better job than I could of assessing the situation, but it is undeniable that the regime changes are a game changer for the world stage and the future.
For the past decade or so, America has been dabbling in the democracy-spreading business. With the eighth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq just around the corner, it’s only a matter of time before a George W. Bush apologist comes out of the woodwork to take the credit for the recent blossoming of democracy.
Indeed, once the lie of a WMD-carrying Iraq fell apart, the Bush administration said that the Iraq war was part of a “global democratic revolution.” The Iraqis wanted freedom, and we were just the people to give it to them, whether they liked it or not. But are we just seeing the results of this “revolution” now?
Very simply, no.
To refrain from rehashing the same old arguments against the war, it’s impossible to bring democracy to those who need it, if they don’t want it themselves.
To date, we’ve spent $775 billion or so on the war in Iraq alone, lost 4,439 servicemen and women and a low estimate of 100,000 Iraqis have died. And the democracy part? After elections in March 2010, the government of Iraq is still unformed. The lesson here is that you can’t force democracy on people that don’t want it or aren’t ready for it. Yes, Saddam Hussein was a horrible dictator, guilty of numerous war crimes and deserved his fate. But the same can be said of the other autocrats who weren’t put into power by the U.S. and who have been thrown out of office in short succession.
In the course of a month, two autocrats from that Saddam Hussein era have been toppled. Another, Moammar Gadhafi, is on the way out. It didn’t take trillions and an invading army to bring democracy. It only took one man.
The Tunisian revolution was inspired by Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor who was publically humiliated by a government official. The official confiscated Bouazizi’s scale, slapped him in the face and pushed his cart over. Bouazizi, infuriated, then lit himself on fire in front of a local government building. This defiant act sparked riots that spread to Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen.
The revolutions, while at times bloody, were popular and effective, as a true revolution should be.
While the wounds from Iraq will take a generation or more to heal, we can still learn a lesson from this.
The lesson is that forcing democracy on countries doesn’t work. Revolutions, like our own in 1776, are inspired and led by individuals who take drastic actions. These revolutions, like ours, inspire others. The war with Iraq is a failed experiment with military diplomacy. The world can learn from our blunder, and we can finally support popular, democratic revolutions in a constructive way.Contact Ben Wright.