DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST….Was democracy promotion a substantial motivation for the Iraq war? Nicholas Lehmann asked two Bush administration hawks this question a few weeks before the war started. First, here’s Doug Feith:

I asked Feith whether the United States, if it goes to war, would be doing so partly because it wants to change the Middle East as a whole. “Perhaps I should put it this way,” he said. “Would anybody be thinking about using military power in Iraq in order to do a political experiment in Iraq in the hope that it would have positive political spillover effects throughout the region? The answer is no. That’s not the kind of thing that leads a country like the United States to commit the kind of military forces that we’re committing to this effort….There’s no way. What we would be using military power for…would be the goals the President has talked about, particularly the elimination of the chemical and biological weapons, and preventing Iraq from getting nuclear weapons.”

He paused for a moment. “Now. Once you contemplate using military force for that purpose, and you’re thinking about what do you do afterward, that’s when you can think that if we do things right, and if we help the Iraqis, and if the Iraqis show an ability to create a humane representative government for themselves?will that have beneficial spillover effects on the politics of the whole region? The answer, I think, is yes.”

That seems clear enough. Democracy might be a nice side effect, but it’s certainly not a goal of the war. Here’s Stephen Cambone on the same subject:

Is the hope of effecting secondary changes part of the motivation for war? Cambone thought for a long moment. “Hmm. I don’t know how to answer that.” He stopped again, and finally, deliberately, said, “There is no lack of reflection on what the consequences either of the regime persisting or of its being gone might be. That is all part and parcel of how one thinks through the problem.”

Lehmann practically begged Cambone to talk about democracy but he wouldn’t rise to the bait.

But how about Paul Wolfowitz? If anyone were going to claim democracy promotion as a reason for the war, it would be him. But here’s his famous interview with Sam Tannenhaus shortly after the war:

There have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people….The third one by itself, as I think I said earlier, is a reason to help the Iraqis but it’s not a reason to put American kids’ lives at risk.

Even in a list of three, democracy promotion doesn’t get so much as a mention ? and that’s from the best known neocon idealist in the administration.

Bottom line: Yes, Bush occasionally made broad references to freedom and liberty in his prewar speeches. What U.S. president doesn’t? And there were a few neocon intellectuals outside the administration who made the democracy promotion argument. But within the administration itself, there’s really no evidence that anyone took democracy promotion seriously as a rationale for war: their original plan was to oust Saddam fast, install someone reliable in his place, and get out.

Serious evidence to the contrary is welcome. I haven’t seen any yet.

POSTSCRIPT: Thanks to Jonathan Miller for pointing out Feith’s recent attempt to revise the record on this score.

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