Something very weird is afoot. I have been hearing commentators suggest that the invasion of Iraq and the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003 set the stage for the current Arab democratic revolt. The story goes something like this: The people of the Arab world saw that a dictator could be overthrown and they then saw the benefits of an alleged democracy. This, according to the story, sparked their desire to move to overthrow various Arab despots.
When I first heard this, I assumed that someone was joking or being sarcastic. The thought that the U.S./British invasion of Iraq, in clear violation of international law, followed by the installation of puppet regimes would have inspired a democratic revolt eight years later is a bit absurd. If you leave aside some level of delusion, what is one to make of these suggestions?
The foreign policy view of the so-called neo-conservatives--the largely Republican group that dominated foreign policy debates during the George W. Bush administration--was one calling for an active and interventionist role in installing pro-U.S. governments. The neo-cons called these governments "democratic," but what they meant by that was permitting people to vote as long as they vote for pro-U.S. candidates. This is why U.S. ruling circles so bitterly hate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales. These leaders were both elected legitimately and have moved to take their countries in a direction that U.S. ruling circles have failed to approve. As such, the neo-con view has nothing to do with democracy but revolves instead around whether a regime is perceived as being pro- or anti- the objectives of the U.S. ruling circles. Two other examples of this the cynical manner in which this plays out were the coups that overthrew Haitian President Aristide (2004) and Honduran President Zelaya (2009). In both cases, democratically elected leaders were overthrown with either the active support or at least the knowledge and permission of the U.S. government, yet this was not at all seen as a threat to democracy by the neo-cons. Instead, the neo-cons applauded such actions as necessary efforts to restore democracy!
The Arab revolt that we are witnessing has nothing to do with Iraq. The Iraq invasion and occupation was reprehensible as far as the Arab World was concerned. Today's revolt is a revolt against tyrannies, including those openly supported by the U.S.A. (such as Egypt). As such these are not only revolts against domestic tyrants but they also represent revolts against a global system that has helped to place such tyrants into power and reinforce their rule during the decades.
The next time that you hear someone suggest that the Iraq invasion was a step forward for democracy and that it inspired the Arab masses to revolt, well, it is fine to laugh.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and the co-author of "Solidarity Divided."