When the United States backed dictator Saddam Hussein throughout the 1980s, we were told Iraq would serve as a bulwark against Iran. Without Hussein in power, Iran could influence the rise of an Islamic state in Iraq. When we ousted Hussein in 2003, we were told that we were giving Iraqis democracy, yet we remain in that country almost a decade later due in large part to the fear that a free Iraq might choose a fundamentalist Islamic regime.
As evidenced by Iraq, American foreign policy seems to be that dictators are good so long as they’re our dictators and democracy is good so long as it’s our kind of democracy, and those who consistently push for U.S. foreign intervention will argue for either accordingly.
With America’s support for Hussein sufficiently far enough in the past, in the early 2000s neoconservatives successfully crafted a “freedom” narrative in order to get the American people to allow them to get their way in Iraq. In his second inaugural address, President George W. Bush even pledged to end “tyranny around the world” as part of a “freedom agenda.”
In regards to the recent turmoil in Egypt, this narrative has become a bit more complicated for neocons. The Jewish daily Forward noted, “After once uniting to support regime change in Iraq through an American military invasion, neoconservatives are now divided as they face the prospect of a regime change in Egypt driven by popular internal forces out of America’s control.”
America’s control, indeed. Many on both the Left and Right who opposed the invasion of Iraq knew that the neoconservatives were simply using 9/11 as an excuse to start a war they’d been aching for as far back as the Clinton administration. All the talk about spreading freedom and democracy in Iraq was just that — talk. As many in the loop at that time can now attest, high-ranking Bush officials were trying to somehow link Hussein to the 9/11 attacks days after the World Trade Center fell. Establishing a permanent U.S. foothold in Iraq has been the goal since day one, and any talk about WMDs or yellow cake uranium or bringing democracy to the Middle East was just the rhetoric that was needed to get the American people to sign on.
In the case of Egypt, the U.S. has long had a foothold there, and his name is Hosni Mubarak. While some neocons sided with the protesters, many sided with Mubarak, including Bush luminaries John Bolton and Dick Cheney. They have argued that an Islamic regime might arise if Egyptians are allowed to vote for their leaders. This may very well be the case. The same Bush administration that once promoted free and fair elections for Palestine immediately withdrew its support for such a democracy the moment those voters chose Hamas. And we are told we must stay in Afghanistan indefinitely lest the Afghans turn the country back over to the Taliban.
The primary difference between Iraq and Egypt is this: You can’t give people democracy. They have to fight for it themselves, something the founders of our own republic knew all too well. This type of genuine, democratic revolution is exactly what’s happening in Egypt today, and every neocon who now thumps his chest about the rise of an Egypt-based “caliphate” movement led by the Muslim Brotherhood probably knows he’s being every bit as deceptive as when they were pitching freedom and democracy in Iraq. The hypocrisy is glaring. But there is a point to be made even amongst the mostly nonsensical, Islamophobic hyperbole: Real democracy in the Middle East will often result in a significant part of the population choosing precisely the type of Islamic state we supposedly want to discourage. This is no doubt as true in Egypt today as it has always been in Iraq.
The larger and more important question should be why should the United States even have to fear Islamic states? What has changed so drastically since the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s when we were more worried about communists than Muslims? Has Islam become radical only recently? Has this ominous caliphate plan only recently been discovered? Or has our foreign policy in that part of the world significantly changed? For the past three decades it’s hard to imagine how America could have been more involved in either Iraq or Egypt, or for that matter, most of the Middle East.
The same “democracy” we wanted to bestow upon Iraq is now being discouraged in Egypt by many of those who once were the most enthusiastic about spreading freedom. In the future, the neoconservatives should be more careful about what they wish for. They just might get it.
Jack Hunter served as a campaign assistant to Sen. Rand Paul during the midterm election. Southern Avenger commentaries can be heard every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the “Morning Buzz with Richard Todd” on 1250 AM WTMA.
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