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Eight Years Ago, In the New Yorker…

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Nicholas Lemann, then and now the dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, wrote about one of the reasons to invade Iraq being offered by President Bush:

Yet another argument for war, which has emerged during the last few months, is that removing Saddam could help bring about a wholesale change for the better in the political, cultural, and economic climate of the Arab Middle East. To give one of many possible examples, Fouad Ajami, an expert on the Arab world who is highly respected inside the Bush Administration, proposes in the current issue of Foreign Affairs that the United States might lead “a reformist project that seeks to modernize and transform the Arab landscape. Iraq would be the starting point, and beyond Iraq lies an Arab political and economic tradition and a culture whose agonies have been on cruel display.” The Administration’s main public proponent of this view is Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, who often speaks about the possibility that war in Iraq could help bring democracy to the Arab Middle East. President Bush appeared to be making the same point in the State of the Union address when he remarked that “all people have a right to choose their own government, and determine their own destiny-and the United States supports their aspirations to live in freedom.”

Of course the Iraq War led to thousands of deaths and an unimaginable series of secondary consequences that were not forseen by planners and theorists. But the “turn the table over” argument should be recalled as demands for reform sweep across the region, whether or not those demands yield neodemocracies or sinister regimes. As the New York Times’ John Burns noted in our conversation yesterday (the complete transcript is here), the events unfolding across the Middle East will force a reassessment of the Iraq War:

HH: In light of all that has happened, how does the Bush doctrine’s application to Iraq appear, looking backwards now with the perfect hindsight of seeing revolutionary ferment where places did not change?

JB: Well, of course it’s one of the great ironies of the present situation, that for all of the turmoil and misery that there’s been in Iraq since 2003, that right now, the government of Iraq is looking somewhat more stable than almost any other government in the region, because as some Iraqis have been saying, we’ve had our revolution. And it’s going to be interesting to see how that goes, but it’s certainly correct, somewhat you might say, at least temporarily, the assessments you might make now, seven or eight years on, of what has happened in Iraq. Is Iraq going to prove to be one of the more stable governments in the Middle East? We’ll have to see.



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