The Neo-Cons Wanted Democracy In Iraq – What We Have Is Civil War And Growing Iranian Influence Intellectual arrogance led the Bush people to believe that they could easily introduce democracy in Iraq just by eliminating Saddam Hussein. It did not turn out that way

WASHINGTON – President George W. Bush and the much maligned neo-cons who used to run his security policies had a clear and (they believed) simple plan for Iraq. Defeat Saddam Hussein’s military, eliminate the (smallish) top Baathist clique that controlled the country, and then hand Iraq over to the (good and responsible) Iraqis in exile who would see to it that this oil rich country would safely sail towards democracy. Simple, almost painless, and low-cost “regime change”.

Democracy in Iraq and beyond

And so, following this brilliant game plan, with minimal effort, America would succeed in planting the seeds of secular, pluralistic democratic government in the heart of the Middle East.

Iraq’s success, argued the neo-cons, would have proven to its neighbors that freedom works. Furthermore, the success of this “demonstration  project” in Iraq would have unleashed a democratic revolution that would have transformed and modernized the entire region. In the blink of an eye: medieval, authoritarian regimes…Pufff…all gone. Just like that. Amazing.

Good intentions

Fast forward to today and you see how good intentions that do not take real life complexities into account usually fail –sometimes in a spectacular way. The Bush administration believed that the only real problem in Iraq was Saddam’s regime, for all intents and purposes a cruel police state, run by a small number of Saddam loyalists.

With Saddam’s dictatorship out of the way, most Iraqis would finally breathe easily. They would come together and rebuild the country in a relatively harmonious way. Moreover, since the country has plenty of oil, the Iraqis would have financed the entire effort with their own resources. Fantastic!

Sunni-Shia divide

Obviously, US intelligence grossly underestimated the depth of the Sunni-Shia divide. Simply stated, with or without Saddam, the Sunni did not want to relinquish their power positions; while the Shia majority was bent on revenge, rather than reconciliation, something that would have required giving the Sunni minority a fair share of power within the new constitutional arrangement.

Opportunity for ISIL

This never ending Sunni-Shia animosity created the opportunity for fanatical Sunni groups to take roots. Hence ISIL’s success. If you wonder how is it possible for a relatively small militia to take over almost all of the Sunni inhabited Iraq, with most Iraqi soldiers abandoning their posts without firing a single shot, the answer is simple. Most Sunnis (wisely or unwisely) jumped at the opportunity to get on the side of those who are fighting against the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. Most likely, many Sunnis will soon regret their alliance of convenience with the religious fanatics that run ISIL. But, for the moment, they are on the side of the Islamists.

As a consequence of the sectarian war and the de facto partition of Iraq, the Kurds in the North have openly declared their intention to secede. They do not have violent intentions against anybody. But they simply do not want to be part of a messed up state that offers them nothing.

In the meantime, the Shia majority running Baghdad and the rest of Iraq is trying to contain ISIL and the Sunni insurrection. The Iranians are their only friends in this effort.

America, always one step behind

In all this chaos, America looks both surprised and out of synch with events, and therefore amateurish and silly. Preaching now national reconciliation in Iraq and a truly inclusive government in Baghdad that could be trusted by all: Sunni, Shia and Kurds is a nice idea. But it is way too late for this. Giving fire insurance advice when the building is on fire is not that useful.

This out of touch, “Let’s all sit down and calmly find a sensible political solution for this crisis” , approach shows how America has completely lost control over fast moving events. A genuine Sunni-Shia reconciliation should have been pursued years ago, before the growing animosities would precipitate the country into the current sectarian war.

At this point it is most unlikely that Iraq will remain a united country. Whatever the future fortunes of the self-proclaimed ISIL-led “Caliphate”, the Shia-Sunni divide is just too wide and too deep. The Kurds are happy to seize this unprecedented chaos in the rest of Iraq as a justification to secede. They correctly point out that Iraq is gone anyway.

And the Iraqi Shia will become de facto allies of Iran, their only real “friend” in this moment of great crisis.

The ISIL threat

As for America, the Obama administration has to consider the long-term risks represented by a radical Islamic political entity embedded in the Middle East. The ISIL regime, or any permutation thereof in areas now controlled by ISIL, may indeed become a new magnet for Islamic radicals coming from everywhere. And self-confident fanatics who believe that their moment has finally come spell real trouble ahead for America and the West.

The end result of “regime change”

In the end, what we see today is the unwanted and unplanned, but very real, “Iraq end game”. Ten years later, a well-meaning “regime change” strategy led to a post-Saddam Iraq in ruin, a country torn by a sectarian war; a country that will not survive as a unified entity. Not to mention untold numbers of civilians killed in the cross fire; and misery and tragedy for millions of refugees. Billions of dollars wasted.

The neo-cons thought that it was going to be easy to plant democracy and modernity in the Arab world. Well, it turns out that they grossly under estimated the difficulties. This is where a combination of ignorance, intellectual arrogance and hubris lead to: abject failure.


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