The Corner

Iraq and Unhappy Readers

On Iraq, a number of readers have sent emails, which, like this one, have proven scolding or disappointed:

I don’t know what volume of e-mail you’ve received in negative reviews of the NR editorial but I’m one who found it to be poorly reasoned, diffident and as naturally full of holes as mesh. Really a shock from NR–or perhaps not. To be frank, I’d try to avoid the patrician eye-roll on establishing democracy, pardon the meme, “where there is no tradition.” Japan’s military cabal wasn’t exactly pluralist, and the Meiji period was little more than oligarchical modernization. The island didn’t know individual liberties from Ragtime, and yet MacArthur’s most sweeping reforms were done before the seven-year occupation was half over. Different from Iraq, yes, but then different from Germany. And Italy.

I never thought I’d say this about NR but its distancing itself from Iraq with piquant one-liners is rather disgraceful.

But neither the NR editorial nor my own posting, below, represents an attempt to back away from the project of rebuilding Iraq. What they represent is an effort to sort out our priorities. A stable currency, property rights, a functioning economy, basic public order (note that in Japan, Germany, and Italy alike, once the fighting stopped, it stopped)—each of these is at least as important to the future of Iraq as any set of electoral arrangements. Undemocratic nations are capable of making enormous progress (Taiwan under the Kuomintang, Hong Kong under the British, or, for that matter, Kuwait during these past few years under its own royal family) while democracies that lack the necessary legal and economic undergirding can dissolve into chaos (the Weimar Republic). A working democracy in Iraq would certainly represent a stunning achievement. But we need to be realistic about what we can and cannot accomplish in the space of a few years—and to put first things first.

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