Wednesday 16 April 2003

Democracy only grows from below

US-British policy has ensured that genuine Iraqi opposition is broken

by Paul Foot

It's been a great time for the LLW - the League of Leftist Warmongers. Everywhere they are rejoicing at the glorious victories of the B52s and the "liberation" of Baghdad. So let us for a moment suspend all belief. Let us accept that the Texas oil millionaire in the White House and his host of lucky businessmen now salivating at the prospect of lush contracts to rebuild Iraq were not in any way motivated by oil or construction contracts in their decision to invade. Let us assume that they, and the British prime minister, were driven solely by their hatred of tyranny and their ideological passion to replace it by democracy. Assuming all that, were they still justified in going to war?

As I understand the LLW position, they would, in general, prefer tyrants to be overthrown by the people they oppress. At times, however, they complain the tyranny is so savage, so universally terrifying that it has to be overthrown by superior military force from elsewhere. So the only way to topple Saddam was by US military might.

Two points arise. First, in Iran in 1979 the people themselves toppled the tyranny of the Shah - a tyranny every bit as terrifying as that of Saddam Hussein (and imposed and sustained, incidentally, by the US). Second, what guarantee is there that any sustainable democracy will now succeed in Iraq? There have, after all, never been any democratic elections in Iraq. It was ruled by British imperialism, then by a monarchy servile to British imperialism, which was eventually toppled in scenes of genuine liberation by a nationalist coup, whose leaders were succeeded in turn by the bloodstained Ba'ath regime. In all this time, the only mass political party committed to democratic elections was the Communist party. Eventually, under pressure from Moscow, the Communist party teamed up with the Ba'ath party, dropped its democratic commitments, and was eventually overwhelmed by the dictator it had wooed.

When the B52s went in, there was not even a semblance of a democratic force in Iraq that could make a revolution against Saddam or form the nucleus of a new democratic order there. Why? Chiefly because the US and UK supported Saddam when he smashed all opposition in the 1980s, provoked uprisings in 1991 and made sure Saddam could crush them, and, ever since, starved the people and wrecked the country's infrastructure and industry in 12 years of sanctions. Freed from such devastating interventions, who knows what democratic organisations and opposition might have evolved, even under the Saddam dictatorship?

In the event, all that has been created on the pile of corpses in this war (and most people die in such a war not by being shot or bombed directly, but from loss of limb, blood, disease or plague) is a political vacuum into which plunge a host of contractors, bounty hunters, looters and minorities terrified of another round of persecution. In this chaos, the only beneficiaries are the millionaires and their toadying politicians who caused it in the first place. Our political leaders promise elections, as though poor dismembered Iraq can be compared to East Germany or Czechoslovakia or Indonesia or Serbia after their tyrants were deposed in the 1980s and 1990s. In all those countries, elections followed close on the end of the dictatorships. But in all those countries the tyrants were toppled by movements from below. In Iraq, as in Afghanistan, the tyrants were toppled from above, by stronger military power in other countries. In Afghanistan, they are still waiting for elections and will wait a long time yet, but not as long, I expect, as in Iraq.

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