The invasion of Iraq has had a huge impact on the debate about democracy in the Middle East—and almost entirely a detrimental one, notes Jane Kinninmont, senior research fellow and deputy head of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House:
Analysts in both the Middle East and the West routinely suggest that the war was an ill-conceived attempt to impose democracy on the region overnight with the barrel of a gun. The assumption is that democracy promotion was a key driver of the decision to go to war. Many go on to argue that the West should be less focused on promoting democracy.
This argument is confused, she writes for The Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), in a discussion of the recently-released Chilcot report, consisting of 2.6 million words in 12 volumes and a 200-page executive summary, the official assessment of British involvement in the Iraq war.
The danger now is that pessimism rather than realism rules. Britain, shrinking away from Europe and bracing for turbulence at home, must not take a back seat in geopolitics, The Economist adds:
Instead the next government must be active in NATO and support its armed forces and its diplomats. As Syria has tragically shown, inaction can have dire consequences, too. The lesson of Iraq is not that military intervention in itself is wrong but that, if you are going to do it, you had better get it right. To resolve instead that other countries must now be abandoned to their fate would be the Iraq war’s second bloody legacy.
Had democratization been the fundamental driver of US and British policy, it is not clear why they would have picked Iraq as the single country to invade, or why they simultaneously reinforced military alliances with other authoritarian states in the region, Kinninmont observes:
Instead, the Chilcot report’s 200-page executive summary does not mention the word “democracy” once….The full report indicates that in the run-up to the war, there were significant debates among decision makers over whether democratization would be feasible after a regime change in Iraq. In early 2002 the Foreign Office was committed to countering WMD proliferation but the foreign secretary expressed doubts about whether a new regime would be better than the existing one in terms of democracy, while a research paper said that the external opposition was not capable of forming a credible government. The report argues that “for the UK, regime change was a means to achieve disarmament, not an objective in its own right.”
“Adding democratization into a mix of other stated motivations for the war—including WMD non-proliferation, removing a ruler who had been belligerent toward US-allied neighbors, supposedly fighting al-Qaeda—confused the issue, and created a damaging association between Western democracy promotion and violent intervention,” she asserts. “Iraq after 2003 has not been so much a failure of democracy as a failure to bring about the basic peace and security that are needed before a democracy can function.”