I recently heard some guys on the radio talk about the Bush Presidency. Their argument is that he is a good man and that his Presidency will be judged later on, depending on whether Iraq becomes a vibrant island of democracy in the Middle East. If Iraq succeeds, the argument goes, so will the Bush Presidency, even if we don't appreciate it now.
I turned the dial. What they were hoping for is a ridiculous fantasy.
After all, Western "influence" in the Middle East only serves to radicalize the people. Think of it this way. Let's say the Iranian government, or Chinese government, was the most powerful on earth and exerted heavy influence in our own country. And let's say our own internal political structure was so corrupt and weak that evangelical Christian pastors provided the only effective home-grown resistance to the foreign meddlers. Would it be surprising that even moderates and non-Christian Americans would rally around the "Religious Right" to defeat the imperialists?
Of course not. Likewise, if "democracy" succeeds in the Middle East, the result will most likely be an Islamic, anti-Western (meaning anti-American and anti-Israel) government.
Did this not happen in Palestine? Bush insisted on democracy there, but when Hamas was elected, Bush wouldn't accept the results of democracy. According to the U.S., if the elected government isn't pro-West, then it's not a real democracy.
For the Bush Iraq Democracy Project to succeed in Western eyes, Iraq's foreign policy must be pro-West, respect different religions, and women must possess rights that seem to be contrary to Islamic law. No wonder so many in the Middle East believe this is a new Crusade against Islam!
If Iraq, or the Middle East as a whole, is to become more like "us," that will require a spiritual revolution, or a transformation in consciousness. And these can not be imposed by force, but developed internally within the individual by the quiet persuasion of example. If a Muslim in the Middle East "democracy" votes for the pro-U.S. candidate only because he believes the U.S. Air Force will bomb him to pieces if he doesn't, then he doesn't really live in a democracy. The choice was coerced, not reflective of one's real values. Bullies can't change the hearts and minds of those they oppress, and neither can bomber pilots.
In short, the Iraq project was lunacy because it could not produce an authentic democracy that was also pro-U.S. That violence finally died down there - five years after the start of the most expensive military conflict in our history - does not mitigate the point. Tens of thousands of our troops would not have seen their lives destroyed, and a million Iraqis would not have died.
But what really distinguishes the Bush Presidency is not his own flaws in judgment and character, it was that Republicans continued to support him to the bitter end and, in 2008, flocked to the one Presidential candidate most likely to continue his policies.
Many of these same people claim to be for "small government" and "conservative values." And they will go out of their way to tell you how critical they were of Bush all along. But in the end, these conservatives supported the War on Iraq, and this issue trumped all others.
Traditionally, conservatism held that no government is capable of social engineering, and that most governmental functions should be performed at the state and local level. But if conservatives seriously believed that the American government was smart enough to re-make the culture of the Middle East, why would they then also believe it's not smart enough to fix America's health care system? Or protect the environment? If the American government is so omniscient that it knows what's best for the Iraqi people, wouldn't it even more so know what's best for the American people?
It is wise to acknowledge that modern government is incapable of fixing any domestic social problem. But Bush Conservatives, those who claim they want a small government at home, also believe the U.S. military is smart enough and capable enough of fixing and restructuring the societies of other countries. The position they take is jaw-dropping in its absurdity. "Foolish," "hypocritical," and "idiotic," are words too weak to describe it. "Insane" would be insulting to the mentally ill, most of whom are smart enough to see through this b.s.
Anyone who supported the invasion, occupation, and social-engineering of Iraq has no credibility when they argue against Big Government domestic programs. These so-called "small-government conservatives" who unquestioningly support wars started by Republican Presidents are morally and intellectually bankrupt. It goes to show that the only credible opposition to the new Big Government schemes of Barack Obama are the genuinely small-government, pro-peace, pro-civil liberties constituency in America. Some of these folks identify themselves as libertarians. Others as pro-Constitution. Still others may not have a label for what they believe, but they are fed up and want to be left alone.
In any case, the most disappointing aspect of the Bush Administration is not any particular thing Bush did, but the fact that what he did, especially the War on Iraq, garnered so much support for so long. A nation can survive an incompetent Chief Executive. But if so many people betray their own principles for the sake of party loyalty, the likely outcome will be continued decline in American freedom and prosperity.