Monday, December 19, 2005

Purple fingers & interventions: spinbattle anew

With President Bush and the administration on a domestic offensive regarding the stakes, situation and prospects of Iraq and last week's very successful election, the long-running debate over the possibility and actualization of democratic reform in the Middle East is poised to take yet another round. Both Susan E. Rice's oped and Kristol & Kagan's piece are part and parcel of this political game. In the Western public spheres 'Iraq' is thus a metaphor for many things: not just about that country's situation; the political fallout of the decision to intervene; a proxy for the tendencies of the region; but importantly also a spinbattle about the legitimacy of rationales for the next intervention.

Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post stays true to his abilities and delivers precisely with his first sentence of today's column:
Though Iraq has now held the freest election in Arab history, conventional wisdom in Washington and the Middle East still dismisses the Bush administration's hope that its military intervention will catalyze democratic change around the region.
Off course, Iraq is a doubly special case to that effect: a 'testing case' and a 'case apart'. The former refers to the 'neocon argument' for the war, namely the creation of Iraq as a shining beacon of democracy in the region that would help transform the rest in a domino theory reversed. This position is necessarily tied up with a healthy dose of universalism, i.e. the belief that many things are constant across societies and that the basic forms of the human habitus are rather stable. The latter, then, refers not only to the common sensical fact that any given democratic development in Iraq cannot be compared to the rest of the ME for the obvious reason that is the war and the insurgency. Diehl quotes Mark Malloch Brown, for one:
"There's enough going in the right direction . . . that I am one of those who believes that the intervention in Iraq will be good for democracy in the region in the middle term," is the way Mark Malloch Brown, the witty chief of staff to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, puts it. "I'm just not sure it will be good for democracy in Iraq."
But in terms of fronts in the metadebate about how to frame the discussion about Iraq it furthermore refers to a heterogenous crowd: the culturalists and area studies people who emphasize anthropological differences; those that for ideological reasons wish to cash in on Iraq's bad run; non-interventionists from both sides of the spectrum; etc. So apparently this is what is at stake in the debate over Iraq: whether the shining beacon theory of the Iraqi Example, or Diehl's "conventional wisdom around Washington and elsewhere" (where 'elsewhere' includes pretty much all of the European political and administrative class) gets to be the agenda.

Unfortunately, neither of the two represent a valid framework for a long term assessment - and due to the high political stakes everyone wants to cash in on the short term, concluding in either direction every time an AP piece hits the network. Malloch Brown's "middle term" perspective is the proper for practitioners, and Diehl's when he points to systematic if not conclusively positive progress.

But in the long term, Bush's recent speeches and the Strategy for Victory in Iraq is more than just parts of the quarrell over how the war got started in the first place. That debate also plays an important role as a subset of the ME/democ spinbattle: the two things overlap in the discussion about official and 'proper' rationales for war. Rules of proper government, law, officialeese and procedures will deal with the official element - mixed up with and validated by the normal political process and press, domestic as diplomatic.* But the deep meaning of the debate we have now about 'Iraq' is a negotiation about the terms of how and why we will wage a war the next time.

This level, regarding the proper rationale, however, is about whether it would be OK to carry out regime change with military intervention - or rather: whether it would be OK to put the democratic argument behind the next intervention. That negotiation is structured less as a question of law and codified adminstrative interaction than as a deal between the people of the West and their governments. While the other level is necessary and important, this is the interesting debate: the much larger question is to which extent the cold war paradigm of interventions to protect freedom is or will be merged with the UN caretaker paradigm of humanitarian interventions of the 1990's.

The strategic blunder of the botched Phase IV - stabilization, reconstruction and transition - in Iraq and the increased understanding of the huge costs and difficulty of managing this part rather than 'just' the war part has of course put a welcome premium on interventions. Moreover, the debate on the official rationale of the (now known faulty intelligence on) WMD exacerbates this premium: pointing to intelligence will not get anyting flying with the public for a long, long time. (Kagan's October piece on the run up to the war is interesting in this respect and as an analysis of the media as an inefficent market for mediating between the public and the political).

Bush himself points to the humanitarian argument for taking out Saddam Hussein's regime (implicitly drawing on a tough cost-benefit calculus of course):
But much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. And as your president, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. Yet it was right to remove Saddam Hussein from power. He was given an ultimatum -- and he made his choice for war. And the result of that war was to rid the world of a murderous dictator who menaced his people, invaded his neighbors, and declared America to be his enemy. Saddam Hussein, captured and jailed, is still the same raging tyrant -- only now without a throne. His power to harm a single man, woman, or child is gone forever. And the world is better for it.
So in terms of words, the coupling of the two paradigms - visible as in the National Security Strategy of 2002 - hints that the UN circuit may have gotten more out 'Iraq' than hoped. The question is just whether any of the middle term changes will be evident long term conclusions before the next time around.

No comments: