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Sunday, 27 February 2011

Does the 'Arab Spring' justify the Iraq invasion or provide further damnation for it?

The main question for me raised by the The 'Arab Spring' that has broken out across the Middle East is whether it proves the invasion of Iraq wrong or right.

Over the past few weeks I have heard from some that the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt that resulted in the removal of the leaders of those countries and the ongoing attempts to do the same in Bahrain and Libya prove that eventually, the people of Iraq would have risen up against Saddam Hussein, so there was no need for an invasion on the pretext of humanitarian intervention.

On the other hand, I have heard from others that these revolutions prove that the people of the Arab World hanker after democracy, which means the liberal interventionists who joined together with the neo-cons in the early part of the last decade to suggest that the process of democratisation should be hurried along in those countries that were or could be a danger to the West were also right. This was based upon the 'democratic peace theory' that no two democracies have ever gone to war, which has been around since the days of Immanuel Kant in 1795 and quoted by Presidents Clinton and Bush during their terms.

I find holes in both arguments. On the one hand, Tunisia and Egypt are very different from Iraq. Although the respective dictators in the former two countries were surrounded by the usual infrastructure of fear (secret police, records of torture etc) they had no where near the amount of control that Saddam Hussein did, as proven by the short length of time it took to get rid of them. Such was the fear of Saddam in Iraq, and such was the fear under which his people lived, that an attempt at a revolution would have resulted in far more bloodshed and taken far longer. In fact, you can see a bit of this from what is happening in Libya, where Colonel Gaddafi seems far happier to spill the blood of the rebels, and where it also seems some of his popular support is holding, although how much of that is due to money and fear we can't tell.

The point is - The Tunisian and Eygptian armies both refused to protect the regimes by cracking down on their own countrymen (also happening in Libya to some extent - although Ghaddafi's tactic of keeping the army weak to reduce the chance of military coup means this is less relevant). As Bobby Ghosh points out in a recent article in Time magazine "Saddam, on the other hand, could always count on two armed groups whose ONLY reason for being was their loyalty to him: the Republican Guard, and the paramilitary Fedayeen Saddam", which had proved themselves in putting down previous revolutions (e.g. the Shi'ites after the Kuwait War). Add that to the Ba'ath party infrastructure, the strength of the secret police and the way he allowed his people no cell phones, satellitte phones and internet access and there just wouldn't have been the apparatus for revolution. Ghosh quotes an Iraqi in 2003, who said ""If there were a million Gandhi's in Iraq, Saddam would send the Republican Guard to kill every one of them, and they would do it without any hesitation."

On the other hand, attempting to democratise Iraq in the name of 'democratic peace theory' was actually a misuse of the term. The problem with Iraq was two fold:

1) They were trying ot democratise a country surrounded by non-democracies - which many theorists argue actually INCREASES the risk of war. In 2004, Erich Weede said,  "Imagine the democratization of a nation located in the middle of a deeply autocratic area. Its democratization would generate a number of autocratic-democratic dyads and thereby increase the risk of war. By contrast, the democratization of a nation surrounded by democracies would certainly be desirable." This explains why democratising Poland (think about it's location) was so much easier than  Uzbekistan once the Cold War ended, and why Iraq has been much harder. There were no motivations for the surrounding autocratic countries to help Iraq's democratisation whereas Poland's neighbours saw a useful new friend and invited it in, politcally, economically and socially.

2) Like Eygpt, Iraq didn't have the infrastructure to become a democracy. No independent judiciary, no experience of a Parliament scrutinising a government's actions and no disinterested agents of social order - so, as Nils Petter Gleditsch, Lene Siljeholm Christiansen & HÃ¥vard Hegre pointed out in 2004, trying a forced democratisation of Iraq was only ever going to result in an unstable semi-democracy.

So, whether or not the Arab people want democracy is not the point - and certainly not a pretext for an invasion of a sovereign country, no matter how heinous its' leader is. Some argue now that the Arab people don't necessarily want democracy, but in fact just want a change in leader. We can all celebrate the changes and revolutions taking place if we want to, but I repeat again, we should be careful what we wish for.

In conclusion - Iraq, as I have found on many occasions whilst trying to teach politics - was a special case. There are major doubts the people could have achieved what has been and will be achieved in other Arab countries, but that doesn't make the invasion justified.

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