February 25, 2005


A word of caution. This is going to be one of those posts that tries to put forward some reasonable, above-the-fray skepticism about Iraq. The problem is that I'm of course a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, my party preferences are no secret, and I have no credibility with regards to staying above the fray. So this post is going to sound like pure partisan hackery. Sigh. Oh well, let's get on with the dirty work…

The other day, David Ignatius wrote a column about Lebanon that included this quote, jumped on by war supporters all across the internet:
"It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change [in Lebanon] has started because of the American invasion of Iraq," explains [anti-Syrian leader Walid] Jumblatt. "I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world." Jumblatt says this spark of democratic revolt is spreading. "The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."
That sounds wonderful, and it certainly makes it seem like the Iraq invasion had all sorts of nice second-order "spillover" effects around the Middle East. I'd love for that to be true. But here's the thing: Jumblatt is neither a historian nor a political scientist. He could easily be dead wrong about this. People get historical causes wrong all the time—more often, it seems, than they get them right—and sometimes even purposefully so. (Mightn't Jumblatt have "invented" this sort of narrative to serve other purposes? I don't know, but it's not unheard of.) In the world of punditry it's fine to take a quote like this and then proclaim that the Iraq war was necessary and/or sufficient and/or the best way to spark democratic movements in places like Lebanon, but a bit more is needed to figure out what's really happening here.

On a related note, as I noted over the weekend, the wave of post-Iraq democratic reforms in the Middle East don't seem to be any more earth-shattering than some of the reforms that predated even 9/11, so it's not obvious to me how big a role Iraq or even Bush are playing here. (On the bright side for Iraq-hawks, this could also mean that even if Iraq imploded, it wouldn't necessarily "set back" whatever reformist wave exists elsewhere.)
-- Brad Plumer 3:23 AM || ||