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Posted at 5:15 PM ET, 12/22/2010

Democracy in Iraq

By Jennifer Rubin

A raft of domestic news stories and the passage of START this week obscured arguably the most important international event in years: the formation of a democratic government, after months of wrangling, in Iraq.

Earlier today, Peter Wehner, who served in the Bush administration, wrote: "Iraq unquestionably has a long way to go, and the road to the formation of the new government has been a difficult one. But a fragile democracy is a moral universe away from a totalitarian dictatorship." (His additional words in tribute to the slain journalist Michael Kelly should be read in full.)

This outcome was far from certain. Indeed, the studied disinterest among the chattering class may be attributable to the simple fact that many of the chatterers were wrong about the prospects for democracy in the Middle East.

Another Bush alum, former deputy national security advisor Elliott Abrams, who is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells me:

As President Bush used to say, the argument that democracy "cannot work" in the Middle East carries with it memories of Asia, where it was so long argued that it "could not work" in Japan or Korea or any "Confucian" society. We see it starting to work, slowly and haltingly but successfully, in Iraq. In Egypt, the people were ready for a free election this month; the problem was not religion or culture but Hosni Mubarak and his police. Arab countries clearly have a democracy deficit but over time the fake republics will become democracies -- because over time the legitimacy of the military regimes and their ruling families will steadily disappear.

Even President Obama and his secretary of state recognized the remarkable achievement. Each released statements praising the Iraqis' accomplishment. The president's statement read:

Today's vote in the Council of Representatives is a significant moment in Iraq's history and a major step forward in advancing national unity. I congratulate Iraq's political leaders, the members of the Council of Representatives, and the Iraqi people on the formation of a new government of national partnership. Yet again, the Iraqi people and their elected representatives have demonstrated their commitment to working through a democratic process to resolve their differences and shape Iraq's future. Their decision to form an inclusive partnership government is a clear rejection of the efforts by extremists to spur sectarian division. Iraq faces important challenges, but the Iraqi people can also seize a future of opportunity. The United States will continue to strengthen our long-term partnership with Iraq's people and leaders as they build a prosperous and peaceful nation that is fully integrated into the region and international community.

It's hard to miss the irony: The candidate who wanted to accelerate U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, which likely would have doomed the country to chaos and genocide, is now sounding indistinguishable from his predecessor. A commitment to a Middle East democracy and the determination to maintain a U.S. presence are now, after the war has been won, bipartisan positions.

But we should not think the hard work is done. Paul Wolfowitz, Bush's deputy secretary of defense, argues via e-mail:

The fact that it took them so long after elections to form a government is much less significant than the fact that -- like the Netherlands, which just took four months to put together a government, or Belgium which is now in the seventh month of trying to do so -- the Iraqis have managed this difficult process, at least so far, through peaceful negotiations, rather than resorting to violence. That is unprecedented in the Persian Gulf region, including Iran, and indeed in the whole Arab world. For all the weaknesses of Iraqi democracy, it is encouraging that they have managed this well after all that the country has been through and all the efforts by their neighbors to interfere. It is hard to see how a return to some form of dictatorship would be preferable. But the result is still fragile and Iraq will continue to need U.S. support, particularly to counter interference by hostile neighbors.

The lesson here is simple: Democracy is no easy proposition in the Middle East, but neither is it impossible. The reigning and aging Sunni authoritarians don't have long and are slowly losing their grip. The Iranian regime is under stress. Perhaps it is time to redouble our efforts to promote democracy and thereby undermine the region's extremists.

One final word: Democracy did not come from pure "negotiation," as then Sens. Joe Biden and John Kerry urged in lieu of the surge. Rather, it was made possible because of the magnificent efforts of the U.S. military. It is a grave insult to suggest that they "imposed democracy." Actually, they liberated millions and allowed them the opportunity to chart their own future. The triumph of Iraqi democracy is as much their victory as it is the Iraqis.

By Jennifer Rubin  | December 22, 2010; 5:15 PM ET
Categories:  Iraq, foreign policy  
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So the War and Reconstruction costs are paid for by the Oil revenues....WHEN?

Posted by: tigman_2 | December 22, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

Wow, so much wrong with the above, that I'll have to address this later. Paul Wolfowitz of ALL people, the man who was wrong on every single aspect of his advice to President Bush, THAT Paul Wolfowitz?

Posted by: 54465446 | December 22, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Be nice, 54465446. It's Paul Wolfowitz' birthday today. Looks like he's 67.

Posted by: MsJS | December 22, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

"As President Bush used to say, the argument that democracy "cannot work" in the Middle East carries with it memories of Asia, where it was so long argued that it "could not work" in Japan or Korea or any "Confucian" society"

Since Japan has been a democracy since 1947 a few months after the birth of George Bush, hopefully it is Abrams who has a faulty memory

Posted by: 54465446 | December 22, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Selectively invading and occupying one dictatorship among many on earth on the basis of lies, causing the deaths of over a hundred thousand innocent civilians, isn't how a democracy and signatory of the UN Charter behaves.

Posted by: politbureau | December 22, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Democracy, dictatorship, whatever. The outcome is already clear: Iran won.

Posted by: newsraptor | December 22, 2010 6:50 PM | Report abuse


Unfortunately there are a lot of dead Americans who will never have another birthday because of cowards like Dick and Liz Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, Paul Bremer, Richard Clarke, George Tenet and Condi Rice, all of whom either blatantly refused to serve in their nations Armed Forces, or failed to volunteer for the same, but who had no qualms about sending somebody else's son or daughter to their deaths.

In fact the person in the Bush Adminstration MOST reluctant to go war was the only person who had ever heard a shot fired in anger Colin Powell.

Of course they were aided and abetted by those in the media who all their lives have slept soundly in their beds, like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill Kristol and the entire on-air cast of Fox News, where it would be easier to find a synagogue in Saudi Arabia than a talent that is a military veteran.

We could also include our own Jennifer, who is all for using our military to enforce her view of the world, but of course was too busy to have ever worn the uniform.

One final note for those ex-Bush staffers who are now crowing. Never, anywhere, anytime in the run up to the invasion was the public case made that we were invading to bring democracy to Iraq, never. Had any of them publicly stated such, there never would have been an invasion, the outcry from the American public would have made it impossible.

Posted by: 54465446 | December 22, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

Killing and displacing millions of Iraqis is a very steep price to pay for democracy. Are we in the business of forcing democracy in the Middle East or is this just an excuse to grab their oil?

There is not a dime's worth of difference between Obama and Bush. They are both puppets on a string. Create a crisis and use it as an excuse to take over other countries and ironically destroy our own democracy in the process by becoming a police state. Smoke and mirrors.

Posted by: alance | December 22, 2010 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Your timing couldn't be worse. Obama is shutting down Iraq; it still is a failed country, needs a good leaving alone. You should look for work..

Posted by: dudh | December 22, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

Is voting for change just a suckers game? I'm done. If I vote again, it won't be for a Democrat or a Republican.

Posted by: chucka1 | December 22, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

Obama always said that he wanted to be as smart about getting out of Iraq as we were dumb going in.

The public words may sound similar, but the vision behind them is different. Bush had a simple faith in American power and his own destiny; Obama knows he has to weld together complex alliances to secure long-range goals.

The Bush administration had good rhetoric, perhaps, but completely screwed up the occupation, ignoring the plans drafted in the state department, putting place in callow, inexperienced kids from Bible colleges and party hacks.

The Army - captains, colonels, and eventually the generals like Petreaus, figured it out. There were few in the administration or in Congress who understood the strategy and the context for the surge. No, Obama didn't seem to be one of them - but did Bush? When his top theater commander was saying it was time to get out, Bush went with Petreaus because he had no options left.

Let's be happy that Iraq shows signs of progress, and even hope that Bush's larger dream of democracy spreading through the region is realized. But don't let the Christmas tinsel obscure your vision. In Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Jordan, Egypt, the Gulf States; excepting the unstable state of Yemen there is little sign of a political shift.

Posted by: j3hess | December 22, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

So the war was to gain independence and freedom for Iraqis? What happened to the WMD's? I thought "they hated us for our freedom"?

And no, democracy and dictatorship are not a "universe" away. They are, incredibly, synonymous, just different ways people abuse power.

Posted by: vk5u | December 22, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse

It is hard to miss the irony. The irony between former Bush Deputy National Security Advisor Abrams admission that even in Asian societies democracy or aspects of it have taken hold while the Middle East, though behind, is inevitably moving towards societies which are more free.

In other words, without U.S. invasion and occupation, the Middle East will slowly and haltingly move towards a more democratic system as their middle class grows in wealth. To date, in my view the most important foreign policy move since Obama took office was his decision to end major combat operations in Iraq and start to bring the majority of the troops home.

To try and smear President Obama with the same ignorance of the W. Bush administration regarding Iraq doesn't measure up to common sense or experience. 74% of the public believed Saddam was tied to 9/11 and that he possessed WMD's at the time of our invasion of a sovereign nation. A great success for propaganda, but not for the long-term health of our nation and perhaps not theirs either. We'll have to wait and see.

The invasion of Iraq by the United States is a history not yet known outside of the fact that we went there without a clear and present danger and by doing so, gave Iran tremendous influence through the Shia power structure inside of Iraq.

Posted by: BadBilly | December 22, 2010 8:08 PM | Report abuse

The wounds are still fresh on the Left--mention Iraq and the talking points honed in the 2004 campaign spring right up, unmodified, with the same sarcasm and absolute, self-righteous certainty. Better not blog about the 2000 election, Ms. Rubin--or maybe you should, if you want to top 100 comments.

The argument against (and mostly after) the removal of Saddam Hussein was a perfect example of Leftist argumentation--a prosecutorial atrocity, constructing as many indictments for as many invented crimes as possible. And yet--we were in Saudi Arabia, policing a deteriorating sanctions regime against Iraq (a regime that was the subject of previous Leftist indictments), in a completely passive position, wasting hundreds of thousands of troops on an increasingly empty UN resolution; but the 9/11 attacks were explicitly presented by al-Qaeda as revenge for our Iraqi policy, and as a blow to drive us out of the region--so, we couldn't just withdraw either. Bush's very elegant solution, to which the Left has never offered an alternative, was to end the sanctions regime by ending their root cause--a vicious regime, which we also removed from the earth. None of the difficulties or mistakes that ensued can erase the fact that that was the boldest and best choice available at the moment, and the fact that a substantial majority of Iraqis prefer a consensual regime in which power is shared further confirms that the choice was not grounded in fantasy.

Posted by: adam62 | December 22, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

In short, everything the uber left knows about jihadism, democracy in the middle east, war on terror and the hegemonic aspirations of Iran is totally wrong. So much so, that Obama has embraced Bushian foreign policy truisms as much as he did continuing the Bush tax rates. Everything old, really IS new again.

Posted by: TheStatistQuo | December 22, 2010 9:26 PM | Report abuse

In short, everything the uber left knows about jihadism, democracy in the middle east, war on terror and the hegemonic aspirations of Iran is totally wrong. So much so, that Obama has embraced Bushian foreign policy truisms as much as he did continuing the Bush tax rates. Everything old, really IS new again.

Posted by: TheStatistQuo | December 22, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

adam52 wrote:

" . . . but the 9/11 attacks were explicitly presented by al-Qaeda as revenge for our Iraqi policy, and as a blow to drive us out of the region--so, we couldn't just withdraw either.

Speaking of everything old is new again!

Lies, lies and more lies, inventing an al-Queda that was wreaking revenge for 9/11 in support of Saddam.

From Reuters 2003:

"While urging Muslims to support the Iraqi people and repel any attack on their country, the tape said Saddam's secular "socialist" government had lost credibility.

"Socialists are infidels wherever they are," the statement said. But it added: "It does not hurt that in current circumstances, the interests of Muslims coincide with the interests of the socialists in the war against crusaders."

From the 9/11 commission:

"But the report of the commission's staff, based on its access to all relevant classified information, said that there had been contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda but no cooperation. In yesterday's hearing of the panel, formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, a senior FBI official and a senior CIA analyst concurred with the finding.

The staff report said that bin Laden "explored possible cooperation with Iraq" while in Sudan through 1996, but that "Iraq apparently never responded" to a bin Laden request for help in 1994. The commission cited reports of contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda after bin Laden went to Afghanistan in 1996, adding, "but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship. Two senior bin Laden associates have adamantly denied that any ties existed between al Qaeda and Iraq. We have no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States."

From the CIA:

"Although President Bush and other senior administration officials were at that time regularly linking Hussein to al-Qaeda, the CIA's highly sensitive intelligence supporting the contrary view was apparently not passed on to the White House or senior Bush policymakers.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and two GOP colleagues on the committee disclosed this information for the first time in the panel's report on Iraq released last week. They wrote in the "additional views" section of the report that the Cabinet-level Iraqi official "said that Iraq has no past, current, or anticipated future contact with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda" and that the official "added that bin Laden was in fact a longtime enemy of Iraq."

I could go and on, but it won't make any difference to adam62 or others because their beliefs are based on ideology, never on facts.

Posted by: 54465446 | December 22, 2010 9:41 PM | Report abuse


You misunderstand the simplest argument, but why let anything get in the way of rolling out the links. I said nothing about coordination between Saddam and al-Qaeda, and couldn't care less about it one way or another. The US troops were on "sacred soil," i.e., Saudi Arabia--that was the grievance. We were there to police the sanctions, so we couldn't leave without abandoning the sanction regime--and after 9/11 we couldn't do so without looking like we had been chased out by al-Qaeda. Very simple--anyone who actually thinks things through rather than swinging at their own phantoms could understand.

Posted by: adam62 | December 22, 2010 10:28 PM | Report abuse

"The reigning and aging Sunni authoritarians don't have long and are slowly losing their grip. The Iranian regime is under stress. Perhaps it is time to redouble our efforts to promote democracy and thereby undermine the region's extremists."

Your paragraph is so curious as if you know nothing about the Arabs, Muslims and their history or the differences between Shiite and Sunni. So you want to get rid of the ruling Sunnis, but at the same time want to take military action against the Shiite Iranians.

Did you miss the point that Iraqis are Shiite majority too, and will view harshly an attack on Iran? Is there a third sect just waiting in the wings to take over the Kurds to spread out and take over the Islamic leadership?

The Muslim Brotherhood, famous for their efforts to purify Islam and impose universal Sharia law are Sunni. So are these the Sunni authorities on their way out, or are they going to replace the current Sunni regime headed by Mubarak?

Oh and since Mubarak in 2006 famously said that Shiites are more loyal to Iran than to the countries they live in, doesn't that mean democracy in Iraq is even better for Iran, OR do you know more about the situation than Mubarak does?

Aren't you worried that getting rid of Sunni Palestinian leadership might be replaced by a growing Shiite group already beginning to operate there as noted in the Jerusalem Post in 2006:

"Monday, March 6, 2006 -- RAMALLAH - The Palestinian Authority security forces are investigating whether Iran, Hizbullah or al-Qaida are behind a new Shi'ite group that has been operating in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the past few days.

Called the Higher Shi'ite Council, the group is headed by Muhammad Ghawanmeh, a former Islamic Jihad official from the West Bank"

OR perhaps a simple rapprochement:

"In a recent article, Sunni Hamas and Shiite Iran Form a Common Political Theology, the known Israeli journalist and researcher Ehud Yaari analyzes a new Hamas publication which according to him "represents the most important attempt to date to connect the growing cooperation between Hamas and its Iranian mentors to religious affinities, rather than political expediency."[1]

The Hamas booklet The Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Revolution in Iran by Dr. Ahmed Yousef, Foreign Ministry director-general in Gaza's Hamas government and a "moderate" leader of the movement, "explains that Hamas's dependence on Iran is not an accidental marriage of convenience…but an inevitable partnership based on the common aspiration for the divine ideal of the 'Islamic State'." According to Yousef, "Salafis and Wahhabis in the Gulf' and 'Gulf governments,' are responsible for the long periods of acute tension between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Republic" and today Iran's friendship is more important to Hamas than Saudi backing."

Your simplistic faith in democracy is as touching as it fatal to Israel.

Posted by: 54465446 | December 22, 2010 10:32 PM | Report abuse


So, in the end, you acknowledge that Shiite and Sunni can work together--if they can do so for terror, why not in other ways as well? In other words, what's the point of your rather bizarre cross-examination of Rubin?

Posted by: adam62 | December 22, 2010 11:31 PM | Report abuse

It should be no surprise that right wingers think Maliki is good enough for Iraq. Look at who they think is good enough for America.

What a perfect illustration of the mental tyranny of low expectations.

Posted by: laboo | December 23, 2010 12:31 AM | Report abuse

"It's Paul Wolfowitz' birthday today. Looks like he's 67."

You're right. He appears almost lifelike.

Posted by: laboo | December 23, 2010 12:37 AM | Report abuse


Bomb explodes at Swiss Embassy in Rome

Obama's Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper will find out about this BOMBING sometime late this afternoon.


Posted by: RainForestRising | December 23, 2010 7:21 AM | Report abuse

With all this talk of Obama's "accomplishments" NOTHING ABOUT JOBS


The democrats care more about the gay agenda than GROWING THE ECONOMY

Obama's National Security team is clueless and what does Obama do? He goes on vacation again

There is gross incompetence at the highest levels of our government and all the democrats want to do is PRETEND that Obama is "accomplishing" things and give each other high fives. The democrats aren't qualified to govern, they aren't even adults.


Posted by: RainForestRising | December 23, 2010 7:23 AM | Report abuse

Wonderful news!

We welcome Iraq to the circle of free states and wish the all the best to the people of Iraq as they embrace their newfound liberty!

Posted by: andrew23boyle | December 23, 2010 8:00 AM | Report abuse


and the terrorists are watching.


Posted by: RainForestRising | December 23, 2010 8:15 AM | Report abuse

I believe in…
Democracy in Iraq
Santa Claus
And Republicans that don’t always lie

Posted by: SETinVA | December 23, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Interesting that the "freedom" and "democracy" blooming in Iraq leaves those who practice the Christian religion "free" to abandon either "Iraq" or their "religion."
Christians are leaving Iraq in droves!!

Always remember that Al Maliki rules Iraq "only" with the support and blessings of Moqtadr Al Sadr. It was a repeat of Al Maliki's first election.

Iraq will go the way of the main influence in the area, created by the blundering G.W. Bush administration. That influence is Iran and Iran is far from a democratic example.

Moqtadr Al Sadr will eventually rule Iraq!

Posted by: motiv8ed | December 23, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

It is refreshing to see open dialog, disagreements, dissent resulting in true democracy. It may not be very effective, but it is a true and open. For effectiveness you have one party systems (monarchy, communism, dictatorship) and two party systems ("American Democracy").

Now only such a system can take root in US where Corporate Proxies and Installed Tools and Stoolies actually run the Government by fooling the people by allowing them one choice every two or four years in the name of "Democracy."

Posted by: kishorgala | December 23, 2010 1:36 PM | Report abuse

What Jennifer Rubin forgot to tell us is that this newly-formed Iraqi government includes elements of Moqtada Al Sadr's Al Mahdi militia, despite the best efforts of Bush and Cheney to wipe them out. It was also the result of a deal brokered by Iran, whose influence Bush and Cheney tried to limit. So this goovernment is more of a compromise than a victory, and the dreams of a US "force projection" that the Addingtons and Boltons of the world raptured about look to be pipe-dreams.

Posted by: teabaggerzrnutz | December 23, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

adam62 wrote:

"So, in the end, you acknowledge that Shiite and Sunni can work together--if they can do so for terror, why not in other ways as well?"

Sorry, thought this thread was dead so I just now read your post.

It's about the same as the US and the USSR working together in WWII. Mutually incompatible systems, dedicated to the eventual destruction of each other responding temporarily to the perceived more immediate threat.

We have really meddled with the forces of nature so to speak in Islam. The whole history of the Ottoman Empire is about equally divided between the wars fought to push back Christianity in the West, and the wars fought to suppress the Shiite east.

There was an amusing piece in the NYT, which I will save your by not quoting, where a writer explored the lack of understanding about Sunni and Shiite among congressional staffers on the House and Senate Intelligence Comittees no less, also among some of our terrorism officials. Most had no idea whether Hamas was Shiite or Sunni, or even Iran for that matter.

It's doubtful many Post readers understand that Iraq is a majority Shiite state that was only held together by the suppression of Sunni Saddam. Most would say it doesn't matter but if you're going to promote democracy in the rgeion, it damn sure does!

Posted by: 54465446 | December 23, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Cartoon Lady, "peaceful negotiations"?

These poor people continue to blow themselves up by the score almost daily. How is that peaceful? You don't think there's any correlation between what's happening on the street and behind parliament's doors?

BTW, saw that really cool video of your hero Wolfowitz sucking on his comb before pulling it through his hair..uuuuuggghhh.

Posted by: edismae | December 23, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

I agree with most of what this writer says in his peice, however he needs to be reminded that we in America do NOT live in a democracy. We have a REPUBLIC form of government. A democracy requires that all citizens vote on everything and it would paralyze the process and nothing would ever get done. Democracy is very close to anarchy.
In a democratic republic, the people vote for representatives that will vote 'the will of the people'. While in theory the concept is good and has worked for us the past couple hundred years, the past 2 years has not been good for the concept. Just saying, use the correct phrase when describing our government.

Posted by: sickofitinca | December 23, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

It is just a step closer to the strengthening of another Iranian satellite created at our expense. While I wish the Iraqi well, I doubt our influence survives for more than a couple of years. It is an ugly political map. Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, all under increasing Iranian influence. Just how is this a victory for democracy? Iran had elections. So does Venezuela.

Posted by: chucko2 | December 23, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

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