President Bush switched arguments again for why the American people should support a war against Iraq. His newest pitch is democracy.

Speaking at the conservative American Enterprise Institute last week, Bush said replacing Saddam Hussein and rebuilding Iraq after the war would inspire democracy in the Middle East.

“The nation of Iraq … is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom,” said Bush. “A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.”

Bush said, “Success in Iraq could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian state.”

The democracy argument might emancipate war advocates from arguments that are not working, giving them new talking points.

But for those who think about what constitutes a just war, the case for democracy fails to pass the just war principle of reasonable hope of success. If the purpose of war is to produce democracy in Iraq and create peace between Palestinians and Israelis, then the war is an unjust one.

While we might want democracy in Iraq, the United States does not have enough of a reasonable chance to achieve this goal to justify war. The argument for democracy simply voids the toughness of morality in favor of magic dust.

Besides Israel and Turkey, where does democracy exist in that corner of the world? In fact, how old and stable is the Turkish democracy?

Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Persian Gulf states are monarchies, often repressive ones. Iraq, Syria and Egypt are single-party states.

Jordan, a longtime U.S. ally, has put off parliamentary elections again and has a restricted press. Egypt, a longtime recipient of American foreign aid, has lived with emergency laws for decades that restrict civil liberties. Saudi Arabia, another key American ally, funds Islamic fundamentalist schools that breed anti-Western values, affords no religious liberty and suppresses women’s rights. The liberated Kuwait is anything but a democracy.

Discerning minds want to know how democracy will bloom in Iraq, if democracy has not flourished in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia after 50 years of U.S. support and encouragement.

The Bush administration’s right-wing makes the following argument for democracy, according to a lengthy piece in the New York Times.

Writing in Sunday’s Times, George Packer summarized their rationale for war, which begins with the idea that through the support of corrupt Arab dictators, the United States has contributed to misrule, corruption and popular discontent. This pathology needs a shock to jolt the system out of its rut.

“An invasion of Iraq would provide the necessary shock, and a democratic Iraq would become an example of change for the rest of the region,” Packer wrote. “Political Islam would lose its hold on the imagination of young Arabs as they watch a more successful model rise up in their midst. The Middle East’s center of political, economic and cultural gravity would shift from the region’s theocracies and autocracies to its new, oil-rich democracy.”

Consequently, the Bush right-wingers reason that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would end, because Palestinians would no longer have support from Arab nations.

A U.S. invasion, conquest and occupation of Iraq would cause the dominoes to topple across the Arab world as dictatorships gave way to the American way, so goes the Bush pro-war argument.

That line of reasoning, however, seems disconnected from history. Even if the United States occupies Iraq for 50 years, we have no assurance that a stable democracy will emerge in Iraq. Look across Africa, where colonial powers held sway for 100 years. Note how tenuous is the democratic tradition and how commonplace are the corrupt military dictatorships. Why would Iraq be any different?

“There were 98 opposition groups the last time I counted,” retired General Anthony Zinni told USAToday. “If you believe they will rush to the palace, hold hands and sing Kumbaya (after Saddam is ousted), I doubt it.”

The case for democracy in Iraq is as deceptive as the illusive dream that a democracy in Iraq will end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That argument resembles “Bull” Connor’s argument that Negroes in Birmingham were being stirred up by outside agitators. The problem in Birmingham was the problem, as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the problem. To blame outsiders is to engage in self-deception.

Herein is what is most troubling about the president’s most recent argument for war: It suggests that the Bush administration lacks enough self-criticism to guard itself against self-deception—deception that leads to dishonesty and maybe disaster.

Self-criticism is far more than emotional negativism. Moral self-criticism is that ability to look deeply into one’s own soul at the motives that drive perception and behavior, motives related to personal egoism, political power, economic selfishness and national ambition.

In biblical imagery, moral self-criticism is that ability to grasp the log in one’s own eye. The lack of self-criticism cripples one’s ability to see clearly in order to know where one is going.

In a sinful world, governments, even the best of governments, sometimes go blind and lead their nations into quicksand.
And right now, our lack of self-criticism is blinding us, ensuring an unjust war and sparking unintended consequences of long-term harm.

Robert Parham
is BCE’s executive director.

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