The craft of foreign policy is choosing wisely from a set of imperfect options. While flawed, the neoconservative plan of democracy promotion in the Middle East remains preferable to any known alternatives. Of course, such a risky strategy places great demands on execution, and so far this administration has executed poorly. It would be a cruel irony if, in the end, the biggest proponents of ambitious reform in the Middle East are responsible for unfairly discrediting their own idea.
(via Matthew Yglesias, who notes that he's been saying much the same thing, and is being (unjustly, I think) torn up by his commenteers.)
Drezner and Yglesias are essentially correct, although I would offer one caveat. We should not expect to establish democracy with one mighty blow, or claim that we could've erased a thousand years of history if only we had devoted one more armored calvary division. The invasion of Iraq may be justified in order to protect ourselves or our allies, but it cannot be justified on the hope that it will remake Iraq or result in the kinky execution of a reverse domino theory -- that Iraq's liberalization will cause other regimes in the region to also liberalize.
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Indeed, wars do not create democracies -- as we should have learned from the World Wars and, more recently, from our experiences in the Balkans.* Rather, long periods of stability and growing prosperity make democracies.
We prepared for the Iraq war, but not its immediate aftermath. That latter failing cannot be undone; now we must make do. But, if we do muddle through this period, there is another challenge still looming, and we have not yet decided how we will face it. This is the challenge of sustaining the growth and stability we hope to establish. This is the challenge of not only making, but keeping, Iraq as a friend.
This means, perhaps, preferring more expensive Iraqi oil to a cheaper Saudi alternative; continuing to invest in Iraq's infrastructure -- it's roads, bridges, harbors, oil fields. It means giving tax credits to companies that do business in Iraq. And, most importantly (and most difficult for some to swallow), it means making real progress on the Israel/Palestinian conflict.
Yup, that's right: If we do not take steps to resolve the Israel/Palestinian conflict, we will find any popular government that emerges in Iraq to be against our single most important ally in the region, and on the wrong side of the single most important regional political issue.** This is not a recipe for long-term stability (at least as a democracy).
So, this is our task, now: peace in the Middle East. Let's get to it, Mr. President; it's likely not going to happen overnight.
When you dream, dream big (I suppose).
*True, sometimes defeat in war will be a precursor to stability and prosperity; it was in Germany and Japan after World War II. Without long-term followup, however, it will not be. See, e.g., Germany, again, but this time circa 1919.
**Incidentally, friend of Israel that I am, I would not suggest retreat to a people who are already under seige.