George Will has a bracing column on Iraq today. He calls for swift elections, then concludes: “The results of elections, including theocratic elements, may be markedly unlovely. That may break the big hearts of those in the U.S. government who hope for a luminously liberal democracy to shame the entire Middle East into emulation, thereby justifying the war originally justified primarily by the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But pursuit of that ideal can impede achievement of something tolerable: a stable, perhaps illiberal, even authoritarian Iraq which cooperates in the war against terrorism. Call this an exit strategy.”
Now, I’m not a fan of the phrase “exit strategy,” and Will has always been pessimistic about Iraq. But I think his column raises two interesting points:
1) June 30th is not a magic date that will stop the attacks on our troops. The new interim government probably won’t be that much different from the old interim government, although it will have a little more distance from us thanks to the Brahimi-negotiated process of its selection. But June 30th has been held out as a great benchmark that will mean Zarqawi and others will have failed to stop the creation of a new Iraq. Not so, unfortunately.
2) The word “democracy” has been thrown around very loosely in the Iraq debate. As Will points out, it will be relatively easy to create some sort of democracy there. Just have an election. But creating a liberal democracy is something entirely different and much harder, since it depends on cultural and institutional supports that are mostly lacking in Iraq at the moment.