Jennifer Rubin attempts it. She imagines that "George W. Bush must be pleased to see the debate breakout over the best route to Middle East democracy" and claims that it "was only a few years that the liberal elite assured us that Muslim self-rule was a fantasy." Larison counters:
In 2003, Muslim self-rule was already a reality in Turkey, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. The fantasy was the idea that the U.S. could forcibly topple an authoritarian government and readily install a functioning liberal democratic government in Iraq, and that this would then lead to regional transformation. Except for the first part, none of this happened. So far, the Tunisians seem to be managing much better on their own than Iraq did under the tutelage of U.S. occupiers.
Rubin doesn't even attempt to prove causation -- eight years ago, the U.S. invaded Iraq, and last week there was an uprising in Tunisia. Ergo Bush deserves the credit. This is deeply paternalistic -- in Rubin's version of history, the Tunisians who faced down the security forces of an autocratic regime are practically bit players in their own political upheaval. The point is not to make an actual argument, but to inject a political narrative that will retroactively vindicate the decision to go to war in Iraq, as though the American people would ever forget that the Bush administration justified that decision by manufacturing an imminent danger in the form of WMD that were never found. "Democracy in the Muslim World" was not the primary reason given for invading Iraq, and even as a retroactive justification it remains weak.
Middle East correspondent Dan Murphy sides with Serwer:
Before I read Rubin's piece earlier today, Simon Hawkins, an anthropology professor at Franklin and Marshall, was kind enough to chat with me about Tunisian politics and history. Hawkins, whose dissertation was about Tunisia, has been coming and going from the country since the late 1980s. He recounted (unprompted) how the word "democracy" had been given a bad name among many of the Tunisian youth (the same sorts who led the uprising against Ben Ali) because of the Iraq experience, "That's democracy," a group of Tunisian youths said to him in 2006 of Iraq. "No thanks."