Thursday, August 17, 2006

Why I'm Not a Neo-Con

After my two most-recent posts, I found myself labeled by commentors on other blogs as a “neo-con.” Of course, these critics used the word as a pejorative meaning “war-monger and fool.” But even had they used the label in its fuller, more accurate meaning, they’d still be wrong. I’m no neo-con.

That’s not to say I don’t agree with certain neoconservative philosophies. For one, I believe the U.S. has an obligation to its own citizens and to the international community to stay engaged in events outside our borders and promote our better values throughout the world. And I also support the use of military might when such action is the best recourse—the tragedies of not going to war can sometimes outweigh the tragedies of war.

Yet neo-cons and I depart ways once we get into more specific beliefs. First and foremost, I did not support the invasion of Iraq (which may come as a surprise to some readers). I was unconvinced that Iraq’s assumed weapons of mass destruction posed any real threat to us or to global stability. But more importantly, I simply could not buy that we could, through war, instill a robust democracy in Iraq.

In my mind, our biggest philosophical mistake in Iraq, which was a direct result of neo-con thinking, was acting like we were liberating the nation. This was not France in 1944. The Iraqis were not a conquered people yearning to throw out their foreign masters. As brutal and evil as Saddam Hussein was, he was still an Iraqi leading a government of Iraqis.

To claim our invasion was a “liberation” was to believe that the Iraqi people were natural, freedom-loving folk who would eagerly embrace democracy if not for the oppressiveness of Saddam. We ignored the possibility that Iraq was a dictatorship not simply because Saddam was so awfully powerful but because authoritarianism was the state in which Iraqis were most comfortable.

I do not mean to belittle the Iraqi people or suggest they are incapable of democracy. But we were wrong to believe that all we had to do was plant the democracy seed and freedom would flourish. Many, many Iraqis had no desire (and continue to have no desire) to live in a democracy. They want a Muslim theocracy. They want a Baathist dictatorship. They want authoritarianism and they’re fighting very hard to achieve it.

Our war philosophy failed to take into account how hard certain Iraqi’s would resist democracy. Because of neoconservative thought, we wrongly believed that the natural state of modern man is democracy. Democracy is and always has been a beautiful aberration in human nature. It is, as far as I’m concerned, the best societal system ever created. But it is not natural. It is learned. And the lessons are often harsh.

In 1945, we occupied Japan and turned that formerly authoritarian nation into a Democracy. But never once did we call ourselves liberators. We were occupiers, we knew it and we wielded a kind of control that today’s Americans would likely never accept. But it worked and Japan has been our ally ever since.

I’m not saying we would have succeeded in Iraq had we treated this occupation the same way we treated the one in Japan. After all, the two cultures are quite different and we’re in a very different time. But I am saying that, once we decided that the democratization of Iraq was vital to our national security, we should have approached it with the cold-eyed realism we used in Japan rather than the flowers-and-candy idealism of the neo-cons.

I do not believe we needed to go into Iraq. But now we have no choice but to stay. Iraq may not have been a top-tier threat to us or to global stability in 2003, but it is now. How do we fix the situation after going so far off track? I don’t know. But we can start by expunging neo-con idealism from our rhetoric and our war philosophy. It’s time for some calculated realism.

4 Comments:

Blogger Chesty said...

Very well put. I've been trying to find a way to express these ideas regarding the Iraqi people and their desired form of government, but I haven't been able to get it out. BZ.

1:55 PM  
Blogger M. Takhallus. said...

The problem is we can't do anything so long as the leadership refuses to even so much as change the SecDef and the Veep is still busily using the war as a political wedge issue.

It's impossible to rally behind a plan when you know the leadership is incompetent and dishonest, and when anything less than 100% support will be denounced as treason.

Give me leadership in which I can have some small shred of confidence and I'm ready to listen. But the same guys who dug this hole? The guys still busy digging? No.

3:47 PM  
Anonymous carlo58 said...

I very much agree to what you said regarding the United States' obligation to its citizens and to the rest of the world in engaging itself to events that affect the world.As the Superpower and the symbol of freedom, liberty and democracy it is just right that the US should promote the better values it stands for without compromising the rights of other states.

2:04 AM  
Blogger Gruntled American said...

Perhaps we should use the term "paleoconservative" to describe folks like us.

11:22 PM  

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