A few have requested that we say something on Iraq and Sudan. Here is one on Iraq, circulated with permission, between Tony Smith of Tufts University, and Larry Diamond, an  Africanist and expert on democracy. As we speak about other places, do please keep to my initial mandate in USA/Africa Dialogue, No. 1. Where an issue does not have a direct impact on the dialogue, we need to avoid it. Note below Diamond's statement that any country can become a democracy. How so?

Was Iraq a Fool's Errand?
Tony Smith and Larry Diamond
>From Foreign Affairs, November/December 2004

Tony Smith

In "What Went Wrong in Iraq" (September/October 2004),
Larry Diamond criticizes the Bush administration's
conduct of Iraq policy in a highly selective way.
Diamond takes issue only with the means used to
prosecute the conquest, but not with the undertaking
itself, making it seem that the reason for failure
lies in Washington's execution-and not with the
misplaced ambitions behind an ill-fated imperialist

Diamond is a leading theorist of democratization and
an outstanding proponent of putting human rights and
democracy promotion high on the U.S. foreign policy
agenda. He also helped the Bush administration in its
attempt at "regime change" in Iraq. He is therefore in
a privileged position to explain why many liberals
backed this invasion and what can now be done to save
their agenda after this terrible mistake. If he wants
to tell us "what went wrong in Iraq," he might start
closer to home.

Iraq lacks any of the preconditions academics
generally accept as being necessary for
democratization to succeed. It has no middle class to
speak of independent from the state; oil revenues, the
life-line of any Iraqi regime, are notorious for their
ability to centralize rather than democratize power;
the country has no tradition of limited or responsible
government; national identity is weak in the face of
rival religious or ethnic loyalties; regional
neighbors will do what they can to undermine whatever
democratizing movements exist; and the democrats
themselves lack a figure such as Nelson Mandela or Kim
Dae Jung who could give them leadership.

How could someone of Diamond's theoretical
sophistication not have seen such shortcomings? The
answer, I suspect, lies in the Faustian bargain many
liberals made: they would support U.S. imperialism for
the sake of fulfilling their self-appointed
democratizing mission.

But it was apparent all along that the call for
democratic regime change was an integral part of a
power play by Washington to control the entire Middle
East-for the sake of the "war on terror," to dominate
the international oil market, and to reassure Israel.
In these circumstances, the democratizing effort could
easily be interpreted not as liberating but as
subjugating the region to self-interested outsiders. A
deep-set psychological reaction based on far more than
religious fundamentalism was sure to develop within
Iraq and the region against this forced political

The liberal nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and
individuals eager to supply their services alongside
those of the U.S. military in Iraq since the spring of
2003 are reminiscent of those priests who accompanied
the Spanish takeover of Latin America in the sixteenth
century. To be sure, these padres sincerely desired to
save the natives' souls by spreading the Word of the
Lord, but in the process they knowingly served the
domineering interests of the Spanish state as well.

Those interested in promoting democracy and human
rights who collaborated in Washington's imperial grab
made a pact with the devil that will come to haunt
them. In the failure of America's power projection in
Iraq lies the failure of liberal ambitions, now likely
set back for a generation, exposed as little more than
a fig leaf for U.S. national security concerns here
brutally expressed.

TONY SMITH is Jackson Professor of Political Science
at Tufts University.
Diamond Replies

It may surprise Tony Smith to know that I opposed
going to war in Iraq last year. Indeed, I publicly
warned (in the January 2003 Hoover Digest) that the
greatest danger facing the United States was not
Saddam Hussein's weapons programs but "imperial
overreach and the global wave of anti-Americanism that
it is already provoking." I worried that the United
States would be perceived throughout the Arab and
Muslim worlds as invading Iraq only because it wanted
to control its oil and dominate the region. I felt
that Americans would pay a heavy price for going to
war without "compelling evidence that Saddam's regime
has flouted its obligations to disarm" and without
broad international support. And I counseled against
an "extended, unilateral American military occupation
of Iraq" that would "turn American soldiers from
liberators to occupiers."

Still, I reject the characterization of the war as
"imperialist aggression." The Bush administration was
convinced that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction
(WMD), and that if it did not take military action
soon, Saddam would break out of the international
sanctions box and once again threaten the region and
the United States. I think the administration was
wrong in its rush to war. The error is even more
starkly apparent today, as Iran races to develop
nuclear weapons while the United States remains bogged
down in Iraq, with no evidence of Saddam's WMD. But
there is a difference between strategic error and
"imperialist aggression" in order "to control the
entire Middle East" and "to dominate the international
oil market." A scholar of Smith's stature should
provide evidence for such a grave and provocative
allegation. That these wild charges are pervasively
believed in the Middle East should sober us, but it
does not make them true.

When I agreed late in 2003 to go to Iraq to advise on
the transition, some friends and colleagues complained
that my presence would only help legitimize the war or
bail out the Bush administration. Others wondered why
I, as an opponent of the war and of the
administration's unilateralism, would get involved. I
was taken aback by the partisan tone of these
objections, and by the failure of some (but not most)
liberals to distinguish between the war and the

If the war was a strategic mistake, it still opened
the possibility for historic political progress in
Iraq. And if the Bush administration bungled the
postwar planning and management, as I believe it did,
this did not preclude significant improvements and a
more positive outcome down the road. I therefore do
not regard my service in Iraq as a "fool's errand."
Nor do I believe that the thousands of brave and
dedicated individuals working for the United States,
other coalition allies, the UN, and a myriad of
democracy-and development-promoting NGOs are tools or
fools, tilting at windmills.

Smith's intellectual error-a common one in writing
about democracy these days-is to dismiss the
possibility for democracy in countries that do not
meet the standard economic, social, and cultural
preconditions. After 25 years of weighing the evidence
and studying democratic development in more than two
dozen countries, I have concluded that there in fact
are no preconditions for democracy other than a
commitment by political elites to implement it (and,
one hopes, broad popular support as well). Yes, richer
countries fare better. But today, almost a third of
the countries with "low human development" (according
to the UN Development Program) are democracies. Yes,
oil dependence is a curse, and deep ethnic divisions
make democracy even more difficult to sustain. But
Nigeria and Indonesia both have this volatile mix, and
with all their problems and corruption, they are
sustaining democracy in the popular belief that it is
better than any other form of government. In the past
30 years, some 88 countries have made transitions to
democracy. Many of them had "no tradition of limited
or responsible government," "no middle class to speak
of independent from the state," no strong unifying
national identity, and no Nelson Mandela. Yet only
about a dozen of the democracies that emerged during
this period have broken down, even temporarily, and in
many countries lacking Smith's prerequisites,
democracy is gaining in viability and popularity.

Most intellectuals and commentators who dismiss Iraq
as a hopeless prospect for democracy have failed to
consult the Iraqi people. They did not see what many
of us in the Coalition Provisional Authority, the UN,
and other international groups saw: a people fed up
with tyranny, who strongly aspire to live in freedom
and to choose their own leaders. True, this aspiration
is not shared by all Iraqis. And neighboring states
such as Syria and Iran are determined to thwart it.
The quest for democracy in Iraq faces long odds, but
these do not predetermine failure. If large numbers of
people in a country are willing to risk their lives
and fortunes to build a democracy, don't we all have
some obligation to help them? Even if the outcome is
not an instant Costa Rica but a struggling and
conflicted semidemocracy, that is still better for the
Iraqi people than some new form of tyranny, or the
anarchy that would result if the world simply threw up
its hands and withdrew.

Smith condemns "liberal NGOs and individuals" who are
helping to build democracy in Iraq as having "made a
pact with the devil." We should never invade and
conquer a country merely because we want to see it
become a democracy. That kind of imperial mission is
likely to fail, and it will discredit democracy
promotion worldwide. But Iraq was invaded and its
dictatorship toppled in a preemptive war driven mainly
by security concerns, however misjudged. The challenge
after the war was to build a more decent, lawful, and
democratic political order-something the Iraqi people
desperately want.

Despite all its mistakes, I do not regard that postwar
endeavor as a "pact with the devil." Let Smith and
other critics visit Iraq and talk to Iraqis who are
organizing for democracy, development, and human
rights. Let them talk to the families that lived in
constant, humiliating fear under Baathist rule. Let
them see some of the roughly 300 mass graves of
opponents of the regime who were brutally slaughtered
in the hundreds of thousands. Then they will find out
who the devil really was.