The Corner

Re: Re: Freedom Isn’t Free

Michael, Carol Iannone can obviously speak for herself, but I don’t think your (understandable) outrage at the quality of journalism answers the central point she raises.  You say the topic at Vanity Fair “is the very issue about which [Ms. Iannone is] frustrated:  Implementation.”  With due respect, her post is not principally about implementation; it is about the policy that was sought to be implemented.  You call her argument in this regard a “strawman.”  I don’t think it’s a strawman at all — indeed, it’s a faithful rendering of the second inaugural.  In any event, Ms. Iannone asks:

[W]here did the idea come from that freedom is the universal desire of all mankind, and that, consequently, functioning self-government would follow the fall of Saddam, so much so that we didn’t even need to secure the country or stop the looting (which was in fact seen as an expression of that very freedom), and that we could rely on elections plus constitution to equal democracy[?]…  I can agree that freedom is a universal longing (although it may be in competition with other universal longings in certain cultures, such as “submission” in the Islamic world), but that is not enough to build an entire government on, without the cultural foundations that would make it tangible.

I certainly agree with you that the implementation has been poor, and that it is grossly unfair to blame the neocons for that, for the reasons you state (among others).  I think you are also quite correct if, by “implementation,” you are referring to Ms. Iannone’s points about looting and failing to secure the country.  But there is much more to what she is saying than that. 

It is a fact that the Bush policy is based on assumptions that (a) freedom is the universal desire of all mankind; (b) given the opportunity, Islamic countries are sure to choose democracy despite aspects of their own culture(s) which regard democracy (or enlightened liberty as commonly understood) to be depraved, or at least un-Islamic; and (c) a country is a “democracy” if it holds a few elections and has a constitution, notwithstanding the dearth of democracy’s cultural underpinnings (not least which is a people’s perception of itself as a single body politic of equal citizens sharing a common destiny).

These assumptions are all highly questionable.  And if they are wrong, perfect implementation would not salvage the policy.