Sunday, November 30, 2003


The Next Six Months

Tom Friedman asks people on the left to get behind the rebuilding and democratization of Iraq.

For my money, the right liberal approach to Iraq is to say: We can do it better. Which is why the sign I most hungered to see in London was, "Thanks, Mr. Bush. We'll take it from here."

Friedman and I agree that we cannot simply leave Iraq but must make the best of it. Having invaded Iraq, (which he supported and I did not) we must put it on the right course toward democracy. If we do not, we will be in much worse shape in the long run.

But Friedman's argument betrays the difficulty of his position. On the one hand, he insists that "[t]he next six months in Iraq - which will determine the prospects for democracy-building there - are the most important six months in U.S. foreign policy in a long, long time." On the other, he describes the Bush team as "a partisan, ideological, nonhealing administration" and concludes that the task of democratiziation "is way too important to leave it to the Bush team alone." I think he is right on both counts. We are at a crucial crossroads in American foreign policy and the Administration has shown that it is simply not up to the task. It has proven much better at invading and destroying than rebuilding.

What Friedman has not explained is what liberals should do in this crucial six month period given that Bush seems to show no signs of wanting to listen to anyone but his own advisors. It's one thing to say that liberals should work for a more democratic Iraq. It's quite another to support a President who will not listen to what they say and is likely to mangle the situation as badly as he has mangled the previous six months. If Friedman is correct, by the time the Democrats regain the White House (if they do!) it may well be too late. Bush may have ruined the possiblity of a democratic Iraq for years to come. And Democrats will be left to clean up the mess created by this most unwise adventure in world domination. What infuriates many people on the left, I would suggest, is that given Bush's track record so far, they do not believe that he is really serious about making the tough choices necessary to democratize Iraq, particularly with an election coming up in less than a year. For Bush is above all a political animal, who will do what it takes to win reelection. Even if he is defeated in 2004, Democrats will inherit a much more dangerous world and a financially strapped government as a result of his bad policies. The Bush Administration has not only misplayed its hand, it has created a mess that will be very difficult to clean up no matter who is in office. Under the logic of Friedman's argument he should be wishing that election were held today rather than a year from now. For if Friedman is right, and there is no time to lose, he well understands that the wrong people are at the helm.

Back before the war, in September 2002, I argued that Bush was the most dangerous person on Earth. Not because he was evil, or bad hearted, or opposed to freedom, but because he was a gambler, cocksure, arrogant, and altogether convinced of his own rectitude. He and his Administration are the last people we should be trusting to handle this most delicate moment in American foreign policy. The war was unwise because it made us less safe, and weakened our hand in the war on terror. Now we must make the best of a bad situation. The first step is voting the person who made this terrible mess out of office as soon as possible.