The Ranting Kraut

19.3.2006 – 27.9.2010

No utopia in Iraq

Posted by rantingkraut on November 4, 2006

In his last Telegraph column, Boris Johnson is reflecting on the unfolding quagmire in Iraq:

We destroyed the Baathist state, without realising that nothing would supplant it.


Ironically, this may be too optimistic a verdict. In its critique of utopian social engineering, Karl Popper predicted that any attempt to engineer a new society synthetically from a blank canvass will always lead to a totalitarian regime, since such total power will be required to implement the pre-conceived master plan. Hayek had similar things to say about the rationally constructivist approach to social reform. Even though the aim in Iraq was to introduce a liberal democracy, it still required the imposition of pre-ordained principles of government on a populace unfamiliar with them and unprepared for them.

The latter point has been made by Oriana Fallaci when she argued against the war. Having said all this, the Popperian prediction of totalitarianism may yet turn out to be mistaken for all the wrong reasons. The occupying US-led coalition is unlikely to have either the motivation or the resources to impose and maintain such a regime. If the terrorists can’t be defeated swiftly, and it looks just like that, defeat and withdrawal may simply be the preferred option. Instead of bringing democracy, the west may then have inadvertently opened up a new playground for jihadists, where previously there was none. Instead of ‘nothing’ we may be getting a new al-Qaeda base.


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