Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Conclusively Vindicated

Just in case anyone forgot, the Iraq War was not just about bringing democracy to Iraq: it was going to transform the whole Middle East. Oliver Kamm (we can't avoid him, I'm afraid) supplied the standard laundry list of achievements in his rambling Anti-Totalitarianism (p 67). It was, in Fouad Ajami's words, an "Autumn of the Autocrats":
Quite suddenly, in the spring of 2005, demand for political reform coalesced in a part of the world so far resistant to constitutional democracy.

Despite intimidation and murderous incursions by groups inaptly dignified by media commentators with the term 'insurgents', nine million Iraqis voted in the country's first post-Baathist election in January 2005. Protests in Lebanon led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops after a 29-year occupation. Elections in May registered a decisive rejection of Syrian influence. Saudi Arabia conceded municipal elections (though with an all-male franchise). Egypt laid plans for competitive presidential elections.
Yasser Arafat even obliged the Americans by dying, as he did so "precipitat[ing] a warming of relations between the Palestinians and Israel". "The prospects for a negotiated territorial accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians... suddenly looked brighter than at any time since the Oslo Accord." (p 68)

The reality hardly needs pointing out. The Iraqi government is not in control of most of the country, regardless of how many people voted. Lebanon's democratic flowering was promptly trampled by Israel, and the country now stands on the edge of civil war. Saudi Arabia's municipal elections, while a cosmetic step forward for a country without even pretence of democracy, involved no transfer of power from the ruling family. Egypt's "competitive" presidential election was won by the 24-year incumbent, the competition only between carefully selected candidates, amid boycotts and various electoral violations. Needless to say, a new Oslo moment did not dawn for the Palestinians (not that Oslo should serve as a model for anything).

But for real nostalgia let's turn to what Hitchens had to say exactly two years ago, in a cosy chat with Andrew Marr. His prognostications were approvingly quoted by Kamm at the head of his "Regime Change" chapter:
I think Iraq will be remarkable. We're going to live to see great things. We already have Lebanon. We're about to, I think, in Egypt, with the reopening of the Egyptian democracy. The Baath party in Syria, in my judgement, will not be there in two years' time. And there will be extraordinary, are already extraordinary, developments in Iran, which I have just come back from. And so the essential point of the Blair-Bush policy, which is to change the balance of power in the Middle East — that has already been conclusively vindicated."

BBC Radio 4, Start the Week, 30th May 2005.