Here is George Will’s column on the difficulties we face in promoting democracy in Iraq. It appears in the Indianapolis Star (courtesy of Real Clear Politics) under the title “There’s no choice but to succeed in Iraq.” It appears in the Washington Post as “Iraqi democratic vistas.” Neither title does justice to Will’s nuanced analysis.
Will’s column caused me to wonder what would constitute “success” in Iraq. Normally, I think we succeed in the aftermath of a military intervention (1) if we significantly lessen the danger that the nation in question poses to our interests (a tough test to apply to Clinton interventions since the regimes he attacked never seemed to pose any danger to any interest) AND (2) if the new regime represents an improvement over the old one from its citizens’ point of view. There’s no obvious reason to impose a more stringent standard on our intervention in Iraq. To be sure, Iraq was more costly than other interventions of the past 20 years in terms of lives and treasure. But replacing Saddam Hussein with a regime that isn’t inclined to produce weapons of mass destruction and that does not murder large numbers of its people would be worth that cost, in my view. This would be true even if the new regime did not turn out to be democratic.
The problem with applying the normal standard is that the administration has talked so much about, and is now devoting so much effort to, creating a democratic Iraq that can serve as a model for the rest of the region. Although I never regarded creating such a state as the reason for going to war, it seems reasonable, now that we occupy Iraq, to try to bring about the best state that we can, not just one that is significantly better than the old one (whether this will have a transforming effect on the region is another matter). Unfortunately, this appraoch tends to raise the standard for judging success.
In the end, though, the American people will probably apply something fairly close to the usual standard. If American troops come home, or stay on in smaller numbers with few casualties; if the country avoids a civil war; and if the government that emerges is neither a threat nor an eyesore, that will probably be good enough.
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