Commentary’s Abe Greenwald has written a long piece examining “What We Got Right in the War on Terror” over the last 10 years. It’s worth reading, if only to understand how the George W. Bush boosters are still very much committed to creating their own reality.
To take one example, here’s Greenwald giving Bush credit for the Arab awakening:
It was the Freedom Agenda of the George W. Bush administration—delineated and formulated as a conscious alternative to jihadism—that showed the way. Indeed, the costly American nation-building in Iraq has now led to the creation of the world’s first and only functioning democratic Arab state. One popular indictment of Bush maintains that he settled on the Freedom Agenda as justification for war after U.S. forces and inspectors found no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. The record shows otherwise. “A free Iraq can be a source of hope for all the Middle East,” he said before the invasion, in February 2003. “Iraq can be an example of progress and prosperity in a region that needs both.”
And something of the kind has come to pass. “One despot fell in 2003,” [Fouad] Ajami has said. “We decapitated him. Two despots, in Tunisia and Egypt, fell, and there is absolutely a direct connection between what happened in Iraq in 2003 and what’s happening today throughout the rest of the Arab world.”
It’s probably a devastating enough rebuttal just to note that that quote from Fouad Ajami, one of the Iraq war’s most committed cheerleaders, constitutes the entirety of Greenwald’s evidence that the Iraq war spurred the democracy movements throughout the Arab world.
This is understandable, as there is no real evidence for the claim. Arabs themselves clearly don’t agree, as all available polling shows the war to be overwhelmingly unpopular in the region. An April 2010 RAND study also concluded that, rather than encouraging reform, “Iraq’s instability has become a convenient scarecrow neighboring regimes can use to delay political reform by asserting that democratization inevitably leads to insecurity.”
Examining the claim in an article back in July, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Steven Cook concluded, “It is time to put the Bush boosters’ arguments where they belong: in the trash heap of discredited ideas”:
There is no connection between the invasion of Iraq and Arab efforts to throw off generations of dictatorship. Other than helping to shape the Middle East’s discourse about political change, the effects of the Freedom Agenda are inconclusive at best. It is entirely possible that the uprisings would have happened without George W. Bush, or if he had been more like his father. Bush 41 placed a premium on international order rather than democratic change and, let’s not forget, presided over massive pro-democratic change anyway.
Back to Greenwald:
Meanwhile, as the noble call for representative government continues to be heard by Muslims around the region, let us not forget that the one existing democratic country among them is the successful American project in Mesopotamia.
As leaders in the Arab world and other countries condemn President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on demonstrators in Syria, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq has struck a far friendlier tone, urging the protesters not to “sabotage” the state and hosting an official Syrian delegation.
Mr. Maliki’s support for Mr. Assad has illustrated how much Iraq’s position in the Middle East has shifted toward an axis led by Iran. And it has also aggravated the fault line between Iraq’s Shiite majority, whose leaders have accepted Mr. Assad’s account that Al Qaeda is behind the uprising, and the Sunni minority, whose leaders have condemned the Syrian crackdown.
Today’s Los Angeles Times:
A series of blasts and gunshots ripped across Iraq on Monday, killing at least 70 people and wounding more than 300 in a spasm of bloodshed that raised fresh concerns that the nation’s security forces might be overwhelmed by insurgents when American soldiers withdraw later this year. […] It appeared Iraq was in a time warp, a nation still struggling with terrorists, sectarian gangs and militias at a time much of the Arab world is moving to replace extremism through revolutions for democracy.
As my colleagues and I wrote in our May 2010 report, The Iraq War Ledger, there is simply no conceivable calculus by which Operation Iraqi Freedom can be judged to have been a successful or worthwhile policy. The war was intended to show the extent of America’s power. It succeeded only in showing its limits. We’ll be dealing with the implications of that for many years to come, regardless of whether the war’s advocates can bring themselves to face it.
Cross-posted from Middle East Progress.