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April 7, 2003

Rage, Hubris, and Regime Change

This article by Ken Jowitt in Policy Review, articulates some well-informed skepticism that sounds right to me. The remarkable thing is that this is a conservative writing. How often do I sing in their choir?

Third, and most important, the attempt to impose democracy in Iraq and the Middle East has all the unreality of Don Quixote. The truth is that an invasion and occupation of Iraq with the pronounced intent of imposing democracy will more likely be a poison dart with a boomerang effect than a magic bullet with a democratic domino effect in the region. For decades, the Iraqi middle classes have been forced to act like supplicants towards those who rule them with arbitrary power. Their servility has undoubtedly produced a psychology and culture that emphasize avoidance and distrust of political life. In no way do the Iraqi middle classes resemble the proto-liberal capitalist classes of seventeenth-century Western Europe with their preferences for, and understanding of, a legally framed market economy and individual autonomy. As for Iraqi society in general, it is fragmented into hostile tribes and clans based on kinship, religion, and ethnicity. In such an environment, creating civility will require Promethean effort. Creating a civil society and democratic government will take a miracle.