If you can't find the weapons of mass destruction that were supposed to be the main justification for the American war on Iraq, forget about it and start talking about something else — namely, what a great democracy we're going to create for the wonderful Iraqi people.
That seems to be the latest tactic of the Bush administration and its tame press in coming up with some reasonable facsimile of a compelling reason why we went to war at all.
The problem with the tactic is that lots of the wonderful Iraqi people don't want anything even remotely resembling democracy.
This week the first steps toward what the U.S. government likes to call "democracy" were taken in Baghdad with the convening of an assembly of some 300 Iraqis, about a third of whom had lived in exile in the West for years and none of whom was elected by anyone other than the American munchkins who approved them.
By all accounts, the meeting was reasonably peaceful. The newborn democrats did not shoot, club, stab or gas each other or anyone else, though it was not clear what might have happened had U.S. troops not been nearby and had they not arrested the gentleman who had set himself up as the apparently successful and popular but definitely not U.S. government-approved "Mayor of Baghdad."
As the Washington Post reported of the gathering, "all were handpicked or carefully vetted by U.S. officials after being nominated by fellow Iraqis." [Iraqis Set Timetable To Take Power By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Monte Reel, Washington Post, April 29, 2003]
The gathering did include enough different Iraqi groups, factions, sects and cults to label it more or less "representative," but then it also lacked enough of other such groups to question that label.
Two major Kurdish leaders didn't show up, nor did very many Shiites, nor the man most likely to be the next leader (democratic or not) of the country, Ahmed Chalabi.
They agreed to attend a future gathering - not sponsored by the United States.
The meeting took place only days after thousands of Sunni Moslems demonstrated against possible Shiite domination of the country and what the Sunnis took to be the even more alarming prospect of religious freedom, after the Shiites themselves started demanding the creation of a theocratic state along the lines of what exists in Iran, and after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had solemnly announced, "If they [the Iraqis] don't want those people in and those people don't subscribe to the principles we've set forth …then they'll stay out, and that's life."
There's something refreshing in Mr. Rumsfeld's frankness, but what it tells us is that the "democracy" being "created" is a fake.
"Democracy," if it means nothing else, means that the people get to pick their rulers. What Mr. Rumsfeld tells us is that the Iraqis ain't gonna pick nobody unless he "subscribes to the principles we've set forth."
That might be fine if the Iraqis set forth those principles, but they didn't and as the demands of the Shiites (60 percent of the country) suggest, many don't even approve of the "principles" when they hear about them.
Given the religious, ethnic, and political composition of Iraq, anything like the "democracy" that civics textbooks tell us prevails in this country and Western Europe is not possible.
There is absolutely no reason why it should prevail there and (again, as Mr. Rumsfeld's remarks suggest) several reasons why we shouldn't especially want it to.
In 1992, when Algeria was planning to hold democratic elections and the outcome looked to be the victory of Islamic fundamentalists, the government simply cancelled the elections. The fundamentalists didn't "subscribe to the principles" the government had set forth.
We heard no bleating from Washington then about the "undemocratic" nature of the Algerian regime. The point is, as veteran Middle East journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave wrote last year, "There is little realization in Washington that democracy [in Iraq and the Middle East] would make the region even more anti-American than it already is by giving free rein to Islamist fundamentalist extremists."
Mr. Rumsfeld's remarks seem to indicate that there is, at least now, more realization in Washington than earlier of that possibility, and what has been happening in Iraq since the end of the war reinforces it.
However many meetings U.S. occupation forces convene and whoever we allow to attend them does not create the underlying assumptions that permit self-government ("democratic" or not) to exist.
Those assumptions in the West required centuries to take root evolve and involve far more than letting everybody vote and adhering to Robert's Rule of Order.
There's little evidence that most Iraqis understand and accept even the procedural rules of self-government, let alone its basic values and concepts.
And as the Bush administration perhaps has really known all along, there's not much reason we should want them to.
COPYRIGHT CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
[Sam Francis [email him] is a nationally syndicated columnist. A selection of his columns, America Extinguished: Mass Immigration And The Disintegration Of American Culture, is now available from Americans For Immigration Control.]