What if the United States has just spend almost a decade in Iraq — wasting trillions of dollars, killing thousands of Americans and killing maybe as many as 100,000 Iraqis — and accomplished absolutely nothing? A new report from Human Rights Watch suggests that might be the case.
The Middle East director for Human Rights Watch told the Washington Post that the Iraqi government installed by the United States through its accepted democratic processes seems to have a lot in common with the dictator we supposedly freed Iraqis from.
“Iraq is quickly slipping back into authoritarianism as its security forces abuse protesters, harass journalists and torture detainees,” said Sarah Leah Whitson. “Despite U.S. government assurances that it helped create a stable democracy, the reality is that it left behind a budding police state.”
Before the United States invaded Iraq, we were given conflicting stories about why. The administration of George W. Bush talked darkly about the certainty that Saddam Hussein’s regime had “weapons of mass destruction.” When U.S. troops invaded, Bush talked about bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq. The things happening in Iraq today show the folly of “nation-building” and they also show the fallacy of assuming that democracy has to lead to individual freedom.
This of us who live in western-style democracies can generally assume we can say whatever we want to without being killed or beaten. In “free and democratic Iraq,” that’s not the case. Anti-government demonstrators are frequently beaten and those who use media to oppose the government face bombings, beatings and death. (Watch this video and pay attention to the intimidation that’s stifled protest because of the beating and then murder of a radio station personality.)
Although the Egyptian transition isn’t going on because of a U.S. invasion, the people of Egypt are starting to see that democracy doesn’t mean personal freedom. In their case, though, most of them seem to be happy about that. Islamist religious parties now control roughly 75 percent of the seats in the country’s new parliament. How much hope do you have that that is going to lead to freedom and tolerance? I have no hope that it will lead to anything except repression and a regime that moves more and more in the direction of Iranian-style theocracy.
Majoritarian systems are deeply flawed. Just because the majority wants something, that doesn’t make it right. If the majority aren’t really concerned with protesters or opponents of the government being beaten or killed, those things aren’t going to be stopped.
What’s going on in Iraq today is very democratic, but it has nothing to do with freedom as we understand it. Remember this the next time some arrogant politician tells you he wants to invade another country to “bring freedom and democracy.” Even if he has the best of intentions, it’s highly unlikely to happen that way.