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The Missing Democratic Peace: Bush’s Latest Explanation for the War in Iraq
All but the dimmest of knee-jerk patriots will eventually realize that Bush’s dumbed-down explanation doesn’t account for the sectarian civil war developing in Iraq.A safe venue was selected by the White House for President George W. Bush to deliver the latest version of his explanation for the War in Iraq on April 6: Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, North Carolina. A more prestigious institution of higher education might have been chosen, but Bush suffers from an unusually low tolerance threshold for direct expressions of disagreement, whether from officials in his own administration or anti-war protesters. The soft-ball questions from the audience at the end of the speech confirm that CCPC was a relatively risk-free choice.
What did Bush have to tell the nation about the sacrifices it is making in Iraq? The bulk of the speech consisted of cut-and-paste phrases and sentences from previous speeches about the war. Public memories of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons were evoked as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were fused into a single conflict. There was an admission that intelligence mistakes were made—seemingly by everyone except officials in the second Bush White House—but the decision to invade Iraq was justifiable because Saddam Hussein had committed evil. Japan was held up as an example of successful occupation democratization and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi held up as the model of the pro-American leader, a veritable “anti-Saddam Hussein.” Bush even dragged the "sunk costs" fallacy back from the rhetorical grave by asking “what would it say” to American troops and their families, “if we left before the mission was complete?”
Despite the predictably extensive self-plagiarism, Bush’s speech is different in two ways. First, Bush didn’t offer his usual rambling list of the various sorts of Iraqi insurgents. Indeed he did not even refer to them as insurgents. His list of Iraqi usual suspects—“Saddamists,” “al-Qaeda types,” “rejectionists,” “foreign fighters” etc.—has been replaced by a monolithic opponent designated generically as the “enemy.” Bush referred once to “thugs and assassins” and another time to a “totalitarian group of folks,” surely the silliest combination of the folksy and the threatening ever to come out of the mouth of a U.S. President, but he repeated the word “enemy” 18 times. Question: Who are we fighting in Iraq? Answer: We are fighting the enemy. Any further simplification of the political message would be difficult to imagine.
The second difference in the explanation is that the "Democratic Peace" justification for the war has almost disappeared from the narrative. The word “democracy” still appears 27 times in the text, but there is barely a trace of the argument that a world of democratic states will be a peaceful world. The idea that the example of democracy in Iraq will cause democracy to spread across the Middle East is missing altogether. Instead, Iraqi democracy by itself is treated as something worthy of American sacrifices. That claim would have been more plausible if his administration had not eliminated all four democracy promotion programs in Iraq in the 2007 budget and shifted those monies to security training.
Simplifying Bush's political message any further would require grunts and hand gestures.
The reasons for abandoning the Democratic Peace as a justification for the war are not hard to guess. Iraqi democracy looks more like the dysfunctional prelude to civil war than the solution to any people’s problems and the rest of the Middle East is hardly experiencing a wave of democratization. The only truly consolidated democracy in the region is Israel, which is also its most bellicose state. Democratic elections in Palestine brought Hamas to power. The relationship between democratic Israel and democratic Palestine is hardly an advertisement for the Democratic Peace. From the perspective of the White House, however, the best reason for abandoning the Democratic Peace as justification for the war is too complicated an idea for many of the remaining supporters of the War in Iraq. Theoretical abstraction like that is too much to expect of a population demographic only now coming to terms with the facts that Saddam Hussein didn’t order the September 11, 2001 attacks and didn’t possess any weapons of mass destruction prior to the U.S. invasion. Here again the political message is reduced to its simplest possible elements. Question: Why are we fighting in Iraq? Answer: We are fighting for democracy. Simplifying the message any further would require grunts and hand gestures.
The problem inherent in such a radical simplification of the political message is that while it may slow, it cannot stop the erosion of American public support for the War in Iraq. All but the dimmest of knee-jerk patriots will eventually realize that Bush’s dumbed-down explanation doesn’t account for the sectarian civil war developing in Iraq. In the end even those Americans who can’t bring themselves to question the original decision to invade Iraq are unlikely to accept the pointless death and maiming of more U.S. soldiers without a reasonable chance of establishing a pro-American government capable of defending itself and maintaining order.
John Hickman is associate professor of comparative politics at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. His published work on electoral politics, media, and international affairs has appeared in Asian Perspective, American Politics Research, Comparative State Politics, Contemporary South Asia, Contemporary Strategy, Current Politics and Economics of Asia, East European Quarterly, Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans, Jouvert, Legislative Studies Quarterly, Political Science, Review of Religious Research, Women & Politics, and Yamanashigakuin Law Review. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTES: See Peter Baker's story, “Democracy In Iraq Not A Priority In U.S. Budget,” The Washington Post. April 5, 2006.
According to Princeton University’s Joanne Gowa, a "Democratic Peace" held only during the Cold War decades and existed neither before nor after that period. Source: Joanne Gowa. 1999. Ballots and Bullets: The Elusive Democratic Peace, Princeton University Press.
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This story was published on April 10, 2006.