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Tuesday, May 04, 2004

DO WE NEED A CONSERVATIVE APPROACH TO IRAQ? Given the current difficulties we are faced with it is a good time as ever to ask a few questions about the general mindset behind the Iraq policy. Now, a lot of people call this "neoconservative", but that's misleading term, as there is only a vague idea of what neconservative foreign policy is supposed to be as an intellectual concept. The better term I came across somewhere was democratic imperialism. I find that the better description because it encapsulates in it itself the inherent contradiction we face in our foreign policy choices -democracy vs imperialism-, while acknowledging that this is an intellectually sound concept. Additionally it has the advantage that it can include people who aren't conservative or right wing of any stripe or colour, but who support this policy nonetheless, such as Tony Blair and David Aaronovitch, or over the Big Pond, Paul Bermann and Thomas Friedmann.
This is a question of definition that I think needs bearing in mind when reading this piece by George Will on the question whether or not the Bush administration is too "neoconservative" in its approach to Iraqi nation building:

Speaking of culture, as neoconservative nation-builders would be well-advised to avoid doing, Pat Moynihan said: "The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself." Here we reach the real issue about Iraq, as distinct from unpleasant musings about who believes what about skin color.
The issue is the second half of Moynihan's formulation -- our ability to wield political power to produce the requisite cultural change in a place such as Iraq. Time was, this question would have separated conservatives from liberals. Nowadays it separates conservatives from neoconservatives.

Well yes there is friction between the two positions and here is an important caveat I agree needs to be remembered by us hawks more:

"I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be." That is the core of conservatism.
Traditional conservatism. Nothing "neo" about it. This administration needs a dose of conservatism without the prefix.

Will is right, that is a commonsensical conservative approach to take. This connects to a fear that has been following me right from the onset of the Iraq debate proper in the summer of 2002: can we democratise Iraq? I know that neither Islamic nor Arabic culture nor Iraqi culture per se are an obstacle to democracy, and to say otherwise is racist. But we do have to acknowledge that the current mood in Iraq looks far less reassuring as a basis for democracy. We may well be in for a much uglier and longer haul than we expected. What I would like is a conservative approach that accepts that Iraq isn't quite ready yet instead of letting idealism dictate policy and thus formulates an approach that can stabilise Iraq until such a time, perhaps two more years or so. But what I don't want is a "conservative" approach that simply puts a friendly Iraqi military dictatorship in place and then lets us get out. That would be a betrayal of our cause, the Iraqi people and would ultimately be futile in the longer run anyway as such approaches have shown in the past. Better to get the job done properly than be patching up problems unsatisfactorily again and again and again.

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