BUSH’S MEGALOMANIA

The dream of reason breeds monsters. These monsters slumbered in the visions of American neoconservatives. Democracy export to the Arab world was propagated to the Arab world as a republican world liberation movement. What hubris!

By Dietmar Pieper

[This article published on Spiegel Online 12/8/2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,453332,00.html]


Naturally one may dream. However we know from Goya’s genial Capriccio: the “dream of reason” breeds monsters. These monsters slumbered in the visions of American neoconservatives and were hidden from the start.

Leading thinkers like Paul Wolfowitz who gained power under George W. Bush were not reactionaries or obscurantists. They were inspired by the idea that the West could export democracy, for example to the Arab world. That others (and certainly many neocons) had different interests in mind, interests like oil or global US dominance, is certain but doesn’t diminish the enlightened idealism of the republican world liberation movement in Washington.

In Iraq, the dialectic of enlightenment is confirmed in the darkest way. What some called good flowed into chaos. The final sentence about the Iraq adventure has five letters: “No, Sir!” That was the answer of the new US defense secretary Bob Gates when recently asked in the Senate whether Washington could now win the war in the Tigris-Euphrates land. Bush’s theatrics in May 2003 when he stood on the deck of the aircraft carrier “USS Abraham Lincoln” behind a “Mission Accomplished” banner will go down in history as one of the most embarrassing slips of this president.

While this was all predictable, something else was involved than a know-it-all attitude. Even if one supported the crusade against Saddam Hussein, the admonition should be taken to heart today: You will know them by their fruits! Not even the pentagon doubts that the fruits of Americans in Baghdad stink. Whoever still propagates the thesis of democracy export in the Arab world must have a rather strong seductive perfume in his nose. This is an old perfume. In a very concentrated form, it was first distilled by the political left in the 19th century and has the name internationalism.

Internationalism is undoubtedly a sympathetic idea because it represents the opposite of nationalism. Still ideas also have their history. Unfortunately internationalism went to the dogs in the 20th century. The International did not fight for human rights, as the famous hymn exclaims. In the sign of the Soviet star, it created new injustice in many places of the world or replaced one form of oppression with another. The fall of the wall and the downfall of the Soviet Empire represented a turning point since most leftist internationalists lost belief in changing humanity through the export of ideas.

NATION BUILDING – WHAT HUBRIS!

A critical opposition to internationalism in its neoconservative variety – world improvement through democracy export – doesn’t necessarily imply a “foaming anti-Americanism.” Experience can make one wise.

Experiences are also made in Afghanistan. In 2001, the party, a Red-Green government, led Germans. At the beginning, everything seemed rather simple. After September 11, the US struck the terror nest at Hindukusch. The Taliban and Osama Bin Laden quickly fled. The eternally restless mountainous country in which the Brits in the 19th century and the Soviets in the 20th century were enmeshed was a field for bold visions. A stable democracy was envisioned where conditions were fragile since time immemorial and where Moslem neighbors saw the western invasion mistrustfully.

“Nation building” was the slogan of the hour. The ingredients for building a nation out of ruins seemed to be: a military victory, a people oppressed for years, western billions for reconstruction and the right universal values.

What hubris is “nation building”! This term has long been considered unfashionable. The Taliban that was allegedly destroyed is advancing. Dozens of western soldiers die. Now the fighters are in a winter break. Next year there will be a fight over power in Kabul. Afghanistan becomes a didactic play; thinking on a large scale is not enough. No one knows how much money, how many construction workers and how many soldiers would really be necessary at Hindukusch to establish a viable democracy there.

This is a plea for political realism, not for a fast withdrawal. In Afghanistan, preventing the worst will take a long time. Crisis managers are needed, not visionaries.