Democracy, Iraq Style

An Iraqi professor, a Kurd, writes harsh things about fellow Kurds who rule their de facto independent state in northern Iraq. Then the liberators show up — our men and women, the Brits, the coalition of the willing, Halliburton, and every U.S. taxpayer — to throw out the Kurds’ long-time persecutor and plant the flag of democracy. The professor returns to his native country, now basking in the light of freedom. He is arrested for the mean things he’s said about the boss Kurds, subjected to a perfunctory trial, convicted, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The story is in Thursday’s New York Times.

Before I say the obvious — For this we’ve given 2,237 U.S. lives (and counting), spent hundreds of billions of dollars, and required tens of thousands of Iraqis to bear the ultimate price? — let’s consider for a minute: The merchandise we were told we would buy with all that blood and money , the goods our president insists we’re still buying, is American civics-class democracy, transplanted to a grateful nation yearning for its own modestly dressed Miss Liberty. Granted that it’s a ludicrously simplistic expectation — that is at the heart of the administration’s argument for going to war.

Now the fantasy meets the reality that was always waiting. Or, as the Times puts it, straight-man style: Iraq “has made remarkable steps away from totalitarian rule. … But it remains to be seen how far Iraq will ultimately travel toward true Western-style democracy.”

You have to wonder: If people here had been able to see a little way down the road — say to the place we’re standing now — would they have been nearly so satisfied to tell the president to go ahead with his plan? How many look at the mess Iraq is, and will likely remain for decades, and feel satisfied with our handiwork? Will it make any difference on the day that’s sure to come when this president or a successor stands up and tells us there’s another threat we need to extinguish by force of arms?

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