Old habits from Saddam Hussein’s era are becoming familiar again. Torture is routine in government detention centres. “Things are bad and getting worse, even by regional standards,” says Samer Muscati, who works for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based lobby. His outfit reports that, with American oversight gone (albeit that the Americans committed their own shameful abuses in such places as Abu Ghraib prison), Iraqi police and security people are again pulling out fingernails and beating detainees, even those who have already made confessions. A limping former prison inmate tells how he realised, after a bout of torture in a government ministry that lasted for five days, that he had been relatively lucky. When he was reunited with fellow prisoners, he said he saw that many had lost limbs and organs.Conservatives will almost certainly take this as evidence that Americans should have stayed in Iraq longer and not agreed to the withdrawal timeline mandated by the Iraqi government. But realistically, what did we think was going to happen? We weren't going to turn Iraq into Puerto Rico East. At some point, we had to leave Iraqis in charge if Iraqi affairs. The Iraqis themselves told us that they wanted us out. Our choices were stay and start battling the inevitable insurgency all over again, or leave and watch as Iraq reverts to a police state, just with a different guy in charge.
So now we all know what we should have known back in 2003: spreading democracy at the point of a gun doesn't work. You have to make people want democracy first, and you can't do that by bombing their country.