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.”
Just an all around fantastic read. Duss does a great job of undermining the argument that 2003 did anything – directly or indirectly – to promote the organic mass movements that we are seeing throughout the region. Consider the following:
- Greenwald’s only evidence is one quotation by an ardent Iraq war supporter
- Iraq is currently far from democratic
- Iraq has sided with the Assad regime against the revolution in Syria
- Iraq is more closely aligned with Iran than any democratic state
Interestingly, Paul Pillar also has a piece out describing just how counter-revolutionary Iraq has been in regards to the Arab Spring:
And what is the posture of the Iraqi regime toward the Arab Spring, specifically next door in Syria, which is currently the hottest front line in the confrontation between freedom and authoritarianism? Maliki is maintaining a distinctively friendly posture toward the Assad regime, while that regime is gunning down protestors in Syrian cities. He has urged the protestors not to “sabotage” the regime and has recently hosted an official Syrian delegation. The would-be lead domino, far from inspiring freedom in a neighboring country, is on the side opposing freedom.
Ironically, Pillar says, the instability and chaos that engulfed Iraq after the US invasion prevented any sort of democratic domino effect; in the Arab Spring of 2011, Iraq is an obstacle to democratic change when there is actually a democratic domino falling. There should be no question that the decision to invade Iraq was based on nothing other than false assumptions and that the country, nearly a decade later, is no closer to democracy.
Moreover, the resulting political dynamics in Iraq have provided Iran with more influence. While Saddam Hussein was certainly a horrible dictator, he (for better or worse) kept a lid on the Shi’a movements in the country. Yet since the invasion, the Iraqi Shi’a, namely the Sadrists, have evolved from a militant force to a powerful political entity.
Indeed, the rise in popularity of the Sadrists is caused to the developed community outreach, very similar to Hamas and Hezbollah. Maria Fantappie writes:
But the Sadrists are positioned to fight back: in control of key ministries — water, housing and construction, municipalities, and planning — they are organized locally and best able to mobilize Iraqis in the streets.
Southern Iraq remains the primary battleground. On the verge of establishing a stronghold in the provinces of Maysan, the Sadrists are slowly but surely making strides in the neighboring provinces and threatening Maliki’s State of Law coalition in the provincial councils of Basra and Baghdad.
The Sadrists rely on a fluid chain of decision-making that issues policies at the top levels of government and implements projects through local committees in the provinces they run. In just a few months, their ministries have begun to build housing complexes in Maysan, implement infrastructure projects in Muthanna, improve the provision of electricity in Dhi-Qar, and improve access to water in Najaf…
But the Sadrists’ real strength lies in their ability to deal with different segments of Iraqi society. They easily mesh with the social fabric of Iraq in a way that the prime minister cannot.
With the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Sadrists power only increasing throughout Iraq, it is hardly surprising that Iranian influence is rising as well. In addition to the Sadrists, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki has been driven by regional politics closer to the Iranian sphere. An uneasy alliance with the Sadrists pushed Maliki to respond negatively to the Saudi intervention in the predominantly Shi’a island nation of Bahrain, securing Iraq’s allegiance to Iran in regards to the Arab Spring.
Unable to survive politically without the support of the Sadrists, Maliki cannot separate himself from the Iranian sphere. The Iranian links that are concurrently supporting Maliki’s rule and challenging the independence of his (authoritarian) government have lead many to hypothesize that should Assad fall in Syria, Iran would concentrate its efforts on Iraq. From Joseph Bahout:
I think that their [Iran’s] plan B would be to reinforce their efforts in Iraq, to play upon the Shi’a card with Moqtada al-Sadr.
Je pense que leur plan B serait de renforcer leurs efforts sur l’Irak, pour y jouer la carte chiite avec Moqtada Al-Sadr.
To put it another way, Iranian influence in Iraq is only bound to increase as the situation in Syria wears on. The American invasion of Iraq, then, has resulted in several layers of undemocratic trends within the Iraqi political system. Not only has the Maliki government evolved to be democratic in name only, but it is trending in the wrong direction. It has adopted counter-revolutionary policies in regards to Syria and pro-Syrian policies in Bahrain.
Presumably, should the Arab Spring ever translate to a corresponding Persian Spring, Iraq will end up supporting the regime against the will of the people.
Photo from Indistinct Union