Watching the recent BBC 2 three part documentary series on The Iraq War I was reminded of the old proverb ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’ and its alternative form ‘hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works’. Asked by Bush to comment on the situation on the ground in Iraq in 2006 his Special Adviser Meghan O’Sullivan replied ‘It’s hell Mr President’. The programme demonstrated the hubris of Western interventionists in the Middle East.
It is worth looking at where Iraq stands today in relation to ten years ago at the beginning of the Iraq War. A sectarian autocrat Nouri Maliki holds the reins of power. One dictator Saddam has been replaced with another Maliki at a cost of 170,000 lives. The U.S. was searching for a strongman it could entrust with leading post-Saddam Iraq. The U.S. settled on Maliki who went along with the Americans as it suited his interests using U.S. firepower to consolidate his powerbase.
In 2011 following U.S. withdrawal Maliki’s party, drawn from the majority Shia community, was defeated in free elections by the non-sectarian, mixed Sunni and Shia, al-Iraqiya coalition. Al-Iraqiya secured 2 more seats than Maliki’s party in the new parliament. Maliki refused to accept the result and demanded a recount. The recount confirmed the original outcome. Forced to compromise he accepted a power-sharing arrangement which he subsequently reneged on. He had no intention of ceding power. Instead he accused his putative coalition partners and political adversaries of ‘terrorism’, a catch-all phrase and embarked on a campaign of repression all the while paying lip-service to ‘democracy’.
The consequences have been predictable. Recent months have witnessed a resurgence of sectarian violence reminiscent of the worst days of internecine warfare in 2006 and 2007. In April this year alone 700 Iraqis died in sectarian violence the worst month for five years. Maliki hasn’t a democratic bone in his body. You would think that Western apologists for overseas intervention or ‘humanitarian imperialism’ would have learned a few lessons.
The clamour for military action in Syria against Assad is still strong despite the parliamentary vote vetoing Cameron’s proposals. Labour has said that they do not oppose military action in principle. Miliband merely opposed the timescale. A principled opposition to Western militarism needs to be upheld.
Western double standards can be seen at play in relation to the recent government massacres of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Egypt. The principle of respecting election results is central to any concept of democracy. History is littered with examples of the democratic will of the people being usurped by not only tyrants and dictators but by those who pass themselves off as liberals and democrats. In Ireland in 1918 the democratic outcome of the people’s vote for an independent parliament, the First Dail Eireann, was not recognised by the British government and a bloody War of Independence and Civil War ensued.
In Argentina in 1966 a military coup overthrew a populist, radical administration and the military junta banned the right to strike and reversed progressive labour laws. The Argentine military junta foreshadowed the regime of Augusto Pinochet in Chile seven years later in 1973 following the U.S. sponsored coup that deposed the progressive, democratically elected President Salvador Allende who paid with his life for his commitment to democracy and the people.
These are reasons why the democratically expressed choice of the Egyptian people, the government of Mohammed Morsi, should have been defended against the military. Many on the left either remained silent or supported the military coup. Tony Blair did the latter which speaks volumes as Blair is an illiberal liberal and a dictatorial democrat. The Muslim Brotherhood could have been opposed politically and ideologically by the people, on the streets, by organising grass-roots opposition to any anti-democratic or regressive measures that the Muslim Brotherhood proposed such as curbs on free speech and freedom of expression. However, inviting the army in to act on the people’s behalf was a catastrophic mistake. The result was predictable: hundreds of unarmed protesters massacred. Military juntas and democracy do not go hand in hand.
The situation in Egypt contains echoes of Algeria in the early 1990’s. There Islamists in the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won a majority vote in democratic elections. The incumbent party refused to recognise the popular will, cancelled the vote and a military regime was installed backed by the elites and professional classes. The FIS party was banned and thousands of its members arrested. A decade long civil war ensued with tens of thousands of fatalities.
It is the people’s choice to elect who they wish. It is their democratic right to elect nationalists, Marxists or Islamists. Every new regional crisis or affront to human decency such as Assad’s alleged chemical weapons use in Syria is met with the same response by the do-gooders: ‘We must do something’ and ‘This time it will be different.’ For genuine supporters of progressive politics, for real democrats and humanitarians the lesson remains the same: Western involvement makes matters worse. It is for the people of sovereign states to determine their own destinies free of foreign interference. Western powers should stay out of the Middle East.