We expect all politicians and leaders to have ideals and surprisingly, despite the various dirty tricks some of them gotten up to, most of them do. I define ideals as moral goals?to get better education for kids, more housing for the poor, more jobs for the middle class, etc.

But when do ideals become ideology and how do we recognize this when it happens? I define ideology as a plan of action, with a set of specific goals that an individual or group wants to accomplish. There may be ideals behind this, such as world democracy, but an ideologue isn’t flexible about his or her plan. An ideologue sees only one way of doing things: his way.

All political parties and persuasions can be accused of this from time to time. You can spot ideology when the same solution gets thrown at a problem again and again, even though it never works. This happened with welfare, until people finally rethought the problem and came up with a new way of doing things. Until then, the government “solutions” were actually creating the greater problem of several generations of families on the dole, all bringing up their children badly.

I bring this up because I think the current mess in Iraq is the result of ideology. At first I thought we went into Iraq to secure the oil, since it was the only reason that made sense. Al-Qaeda wouldn’t hesitate to destroy those wells and plunge the West into darkness. Functioning without electricity or automobiles would suit their particular ideology just fine.

I never believed the weapons of mass destruction scenario because we know North Korea’s Kim has nuclear WMDs?so why not go after him instead? And if our goal is take down evil dictators, surely we should get rid of Kim first, before he finds a reason, based on his own ideology, to set off one of those bombs. And there was never any convincing evidence of a tie between al-Qaeda and Saddam.

But lately, I’ve begun to change my mind. I think we went into Iraq because of the ideology of a small group of people. An article in the New York Times magazine, as well as a report which aired on Nightline on March 5, 2003, reveals that in 1997, years before George W. Bush became President and 4 years before 911, a group of neo-conservatives known as the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) was already planning to get rid of Saddam Hussein. Some of its members were: Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, undersecretary of state for disarmament John Bolton, Defense Science Board chairman Richard Perle, and White House liaison Zalmay Khalilzad. In fact, it sometimes seems as if this group looked for a man they could put into power who would carry out their plans, and found him in George W. Bush.

The group called for “the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power” and predicted that the shift would have to happen slowly, unless there was “some catastrophic and catalyzing event, like a new Pearl Harbor.” 911 was that event. On the morning of September 12, Rumsfeld said that Saddam’s Iraq should be “a principal target of the first round of terrorism,” according to Bob Woodward’s book Bush At War.

Scotland’s Sunday Herald newspaper called the PNAC plan “a secret blueprint for U.S. global domination.” It’s clear most of the Mideast thinks this is the case, including the ungrateful Iraqis themselves. But I think the PNAC’s motives were totally sincere?they really believed they could bring about a democratic Middle East, which would lead to a safer world.

The problem is, they had ideological aims, rather than ideals. Someone whose ideal is a democratic Middle East would try to find practical ways to go about convincing these countries to topple dictators, give up their religious dictatorships and try democracy instead. If they thought the solution was to invade a country like Iraq, they would listen to the opinions of experts on the Middle East and try to figure out what the Iraqi reaction was likely to be?not what they wanted or hoped it would be, but what might actually happen. We now know this wasn’t done, and that’s why we have the mess we’re in today.

No matter whether we say “You’re a democracy now” after the upcoming Iraqi election, then turn tail and run (the way we eventually did in Vietnam), or whether we’re finally able to exert some control over the warring factions there, it’s clear that whoever wins the upcoming election will inherit a major problem. And even if Iraq does manage to avoid civil war (which seems doubtful) and attain a shaky degree of democracy, rather than just another form of dictatorship, we’ll have to ask ourselves: Was it worth it?

Idealists ask themselves that question BEFORE taking action and ideologues don’t. That’s the difference.

NOTE: This Diary entry, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.

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