paul berman on bush, iraq, and magic hegelianism


IN THE CASE of Iraq, I think that several distinct ideological elements contributed to the undoing of the administration’s best hopes. The Bush administration’s conversion to the idea of upending the sixty-year-old policy came late, and the conversion felt awkward to the president and his top advisers. The White House took a long time to learn how to express the new, democratic intentions, and inarticulateness, combined with the administration’s preference for manipulating public opinion, instead of presenting honest arguments, proved to be a disaster all by itself, with a thousand dismal consequences: no one believed a word out of Washington, there were fewer allies than necessary, and so on. And then, having hurriedly adopted the idea of pursuing a new policy in the Middle East, the administration ended up proclaiming a Bush Doctrine that turned out to be incoherent—a doctrine aiming at a democratic goal, but using means that were, often as not, better suited for other purposes.

The administration was in the grip of a belief in magic Hegelianism, which is to say, End-of-History-ism, which allowed the administration to believe that, once Saddam had been removed, democracy was going to emerge without anyone’s having to make much effort.

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