U-turn in Iraq?

Ever since it became clear that no WMDs would be found in Iraq, building democracy in Iraq has been the declared goal of the occupation, and its post facto justification. Is this about to change?

A bipartisan working group under former Secretary of State James Baker has been looking at the options. (Big surprise: none of them are good.) Baker has dropped hints, some less subtle than others, that this whole idea of democracy is just a distraction from stability in Iraq. According to a piece in today's Sun, the commission -- or at least Baker -- buys the canard that Iraq is essentially a sectarian conflict, a product of multi-ethnicity, which is of course the most popular "explanation" of what's happening there. The implications are clear: dictators are alright as long as they hail from majority groups (Bashar, move over).

On PBS's "Charlie Rose Show," Mr. Baker was careful to say he believed the jury was still out on whether Iraq was a success or a failure. But he also hastened to distinguish between a Middle East that was "democratic" and one that was merely "representative."

"If we are able to promote representative, representative government, not necessarily democracy, in a number of nations in the Middle East and bring more freedom to the people of that part of the world, it will have been a success," he said.

That distinction is crucial, according to one member of the expert working groups. "Baker wants to believe that Sunni dictators in Sunni majority states are representative," the group member, who requested anonymity, said.

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