Here's one thing we can credit the Bush Administration for: its invasion of Iraq has made more apparent what our government is doing when it "promotes democracy in the Middle East." Before, there was much to illustrate the contradiction between rhetoric and reality. But in the past, U.S. officials could "poor-mouth" their influence: "we're doing what we can."
Now that the U.S. is an occupying power in Iraq, the role of the U.S. is in sharper focus. The power of the U.S. in Iraq is not absolute. U.S. officials have to negotiate with Iraqi power centers. But the U.S. has powerful influence. And the direction in which this influence is being exercised is more visible than usual.
Case in point: U.S. efforts to pressure the Iraqi parliament to pass a hydrocarbon law, reorganizing the oil industry. If a goal of the Bush Administration is truly to promote democracy, then what Iraqis actually think of this law is a critical question.
We now have some evidence about this, and the evidence suggests that the majority of Iraqis do not support the law that the Bush Administration is trying to impose.
Oil Change International commissioned a poll. More than six-in-ten (63%) of all respondents said they preferred that Iraqi companies rather than foreign firms take the lead in developing Iraq's oil (32% "strongly," 31% "moderately").
The poll also found that three-quarters of Iraqis say their government has provided either "totally inadequate" or "somewhat inadequate" information on the draft oil law, as Ben Lando noted in a UPI analysis .
Reasonable people can disagree in their predictions about what exactly the consequences of the passage of the oil law as currently drafted would be. They can also disagree in their assessment of whether the draft law is in the interest of the majority of Iraqis. But if Iraq is a democracy, the final judgment belongs to the Iraqi people.
U.S. media reporting has misleadingly conflated the question of the proposed reorganization of the industry with the question of how oil revenues are distributed among Iraqis - Counterspin critiques the New York Times coverage here - and there has been little debate. A few Members of Congress - Reps. Kucinich, Sestak, and Delahunt, for example - have spoken up.
One suspects that part of the reason is that if supporters of continuing the indefinite U.S. occupation of Iraq were forced to concede that Iraqis don't support what the U.S. is doing - not to mention that nearly a million Iraqis have died - the whole argument about "cut and run" would be exposed as a cruel farce. If one is engaged in an immoral enterprise, there's nothing brave about "staying the course."
Robert Naiman is Senior Policy Analyst and National Coordinator at Just Foreign Policy.