The Personalist Project

I was a supporter of the Iraq invasion at the time. But a comment by Daniel Pipes in the Corner this morning expresses well my worries now.

“It takes a cynical mind not to share in the achievement of Iraq’s national elections.” So writes the Wall Street Journal editorial board today. I’m no cynic, but my mood about Iraq could variously be described as depressed, despairing, despondent, dejected, pessimistic, melancholic, and gloomy.

That’s because the Iraqi regime (along with those of Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority) is a kept institution that cannot survive without constant American support. As long as Washington pumps money and sacrifices lives to maintain the Baghdad government, the latter can hobble along. Remove those props and Iranian-backed Islamists soon take over.

Tehran has aspired to seize effective control of Iraq since the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. With many levers at hand, from mosques to schools to militias to politicians, the Iranian despots are well placed to inherit the country.

It does no good to remove a tyrant militarily if the moral conditions that allowed his rise to power remain in force on the ground.  We would have done much better, I now think, to support internal resistance.

Comments (4)


#1, Mar 10, 2010 11:13am

Hi Katie,

I saw your post on the Linde yesterday and meant to comment.  That WSJ quote caught my eye too, and I had similar thoughts.  The Republicans seemingly have staked their global strategy against terrorism on the notion that democracy can be planted in Iraq and from there flourish throughout the Middle East.  I have debated colleagues (active in Republican politics) about this non-conservative position and the best I get in return is something along the lines of: ‚ÄúWhat other choice do we have?‚Äù (I think we have many other choices, but that‚Äôs for another conversation).

Democracy is not a formula that, when mixed in any region, will allow freedom and prosperity to spread.  It depends on so many ideas, cultural habits and social arrangements that take centuries to establish.  Notions of family, and religion, and work, and law, and freedoms(as understood and lived, not as words on paper).  Do the Republicans believe there is a short cut to these cultural developments?  That all we need is a document and a fresh start?

As you say, “Freedom has to come from within” and it will not come easily and it will not come by force and it will not come by means of a constitution that well-meaning Westerners help put in place but which has no connection to the ancient culture(s) of the state called Iraq.

And if a new tyrant rises (democratically or otherwise) after we leave Iraq, are we to go back in and start again?

I hope I’m wrong on this.

Scott Johnston

#2, Mar 11, 2010 12:01pm

I pretty much agree, Katie. At first I too hoped it would be truly beneficial for the Iraqi people over the long haul. They have certainly benefited in the short term.

But, I do think that we Americans are being a bit foolish not to respect how singular and special, and unlikely, was the foundation and preservation of the United States. There was a special coalescence of many things in place that permitted our Constitution with its form of representative democracy and its high emphasis on individual freedoms and limited powers of government to take shape. This context included an essentially Christian view of the world and of human persons.

I seriously doubt whether a representative democracy similar to ours could survive on its own for other than a short time in any culture in which a Christian (or Jewish) mindset was foreign to the large majority of people. Surely, at the least, the fundamental values expressed in our Declaration of Independence (equality of rights and dignity derived not from any human entity but from the the Creator; right to representation) are that without which a free democratic republic could not survive long term. And I think these values must be present in some significant segment of the people or else a free representative democracy could not be sustained from within.

Jules van Schaijik

#3, Mar 12, 2010 12:01pm

Katie’s post reminds me of Vaclav Havel’s great essay “The Power of the Powerless”. Written in 1978, way before the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, Havel argues that “a genuine, profound, and lasting change for the better” cannot come from “the victory ... of any particular traditional political conception, which can ultimately be only external”:

More than ever before, such a change will have to derive from human existence, from the fundamental reconstitution of the position of people in the world, their relationship to themselves and to each other, and to the universe. If a better economic and political model is to be created, then perhaps more than ever before it must derive from profound existential and moral changes in society. This is not something that can be designed and introduced like a new car. If it is to be more than just a new variation of the old degeneration, it must above all be an expression of life in the process of transforming itself. A better system will not automatically ensure a better life. In fact, the opposite is true: only by creating a better life can a better system be developed.

Havel’s ideas are confirmed by the profound impact they had on future events in Eastern Europe.  According to a member of the Solidarity movement in Poland the essay appeared at just the right time. A time in which people involved in or sympathetic to the movement were beginning to doubt what they were doing, and whether they could possibly be effective in the larger scheme of things:

Then came the essay by Havel. Reading it gave us the theoretical underpinnings for our activity. It maintained our spirits; we did not give up, and a year later-in August 1980-it became clear that the party apparatus and the factory management were afraid of us. We mattered. And the rank and file saw us as leaders of the movement. When I look at the victories of Solidarity ... I see in them an astonishing fulfillment of the propheticies and knowledge contained in Havel’s essay.

Scott Johnston

#4, Mar 12, 2010 12:28pm

Wow. Great quote by Havel, Jules. Thanks! It seems he was a person with great insight and perspective into human nature and culture.

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