We covered the speech yesterday but the FT is one of a number of newspapers to major in on David Cameron’s attempt to distance himself from "neoconservatism":
“We should accept that we cannot impose democracy at the barrel of a gun,” he said in Islamabad. “We cannot drop democracy from 10,000 feet and we should not try. Put crudely, that was what was wrong with the “neo-con” approach and why I am a liberal Conservative, not a neo-Conservative.”
Mr Cameron is politically sensible to distance himself from the toxic term neoconservatism but he’s wrong to misrepresent what coalition forces are doing in Iraq. The "drop democracy from 10,000 feet" soundbite isn’t just silly, it borders on the offensive.
Bill Clinton tried to solve the Iraqi problem from 10,000 feet. During his presidency America bombed Iraq but stopped short of any serious engagement. At enormous cost America, in particular, but other nations, notably Britain, have committed ground troops to Iraq and Afghanistan in the hope of giving those two troubled nations the possibility of the same freedoms that we enjoy. Mr Cameron is 100% correct to say that democracy is much more than elections but it is misleading to suggest that Iraq’s democracy is being imposed from 10,000 feet or at the barrel of a gun. For example, enormous efforts have been made to craft constitutions that respect the rights of women and religious diversity in both countries. Troops are now embedded in Iraqi communities, intimately involved in community protection, and providing the space that is necessary for political and institutional progress.
In an ideal world we would have time to allow the institutions that support democracy to evolve – as Mr Cameron recommends – but we don’t live in an ideal world. The free world had to intervene in Afghanistan because the nation’s Taliban regime was supporting al-Qaeda, not least the 9/11 attacks. Without that intervention we cannot know how recent history might have been different but who thought, at the time, that 9/11 was an isolated event rather than the beginning of a campaign of terror?
More controversially, we also had to intervene in Iraq because Saddam Hussein was an unrepentant threat to the peace of the region and wider world. The Iraq campaign was very badly handled. We all know that but David Cameron would be better advised to criticise the Rumsfeld doctrine – and its belief in a limited deployment – or Iran for its destabilising role. Talk of dropping democracy from 10,000 feet makes for good headlines but it doesn’t help us understand what went wrong – nor what has begun to go right in Iraq.