The historical record has now established that President Bush and his war planners viewed the toppling of Saddam Hussein as a strategic opportunity to introduce democracy in the heart of the Middle East, with the expectation that western-style values would take root and spread peace throughout the region. The flaw in that bold thinking, however, was to assume that voters would comply by electing the people with whom the Bush administration would feel most comfortable.
And now we're seeing the consequences. Bush right now is stuck with a prime minister he doesn't like, a prime minister who is allied with the forces that could trigger full-blown civil war, a prime minister who got the job in accordance with the rules established in the same Constitution that Bush has touted as a symbol of democratic progress.
No wonder we're in a pickle over there.
The Iraqi voters last December basically divided starkly along sectarian and ethnic lines, and wound up awarding the largest number of Parliament seats to the religious Shiites, and, under the rules of the new game, they had the right to nominate a prime minister. Result: The job went to Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who is tight with the leader of a violent and populous Shiite militia.
What can Bush do when the "wrong" guy gets chosen in a free process? He sends word that the wrong guy should consider himself gone, no matter what the voters essentially decided.
As Bush said earlier this week, through his ambassador to Iraq, the president "doesn't want, doesn't support, and doesn't accept" Jaafari as the long-term choice for that post. And sure enough, as we see today, Jaafari is digging in, by throwing Bush's democratic rhetoric back in his face: "(S)ome American figures have made statements that interfere with the results of the democratic process."
Such are the pitfalls of exporting democracy. Bush now has the choice of bowing to the free process and accepting Jaafari (who is also tight with Iran) - or interfering further in Iraqi politics and risk undercutting America's credibility in Iraq even more. Because, on the issue of credibility, we have this Bush remark, uttered on March 10, addressing the importance of Iraqi voters choosing the government that they want:
"We want the Iraqis to make that selection, of course. They are the ones who got elected by the people. They’re the ones who must form the government."