Jim Lindgren has a very interesting post out on how democracy is likely to play out in the Middle East. Quoting an Egyptian blogger, the thesis is that at this stage, Muslims nations are likely to spend at least some time under Islamist rule, "get it out of their system" so to speak, before making the jump to democracy. I say "mak[e] the jump" as if it's inevitable, but it isn't--as we've seen in Iran, a country can go Islamist, lose the support of its entire population, and stay Islamist anyway off sheer governmental force alone. That, alas, is what good authoritarian states do.
The question is, what does this mean for Iraq? On the one hand, it could buttress support for the US invasion over the long haul, even if the short-term result is an Islamist democracy. If one buys what Lindgren is saying, then such a move is the first step in the democratization process--once the people lose faith in religious theocracy, they'll turn toward liberal democracy. By showing that democracy remains feasible even if the short-term looks bleak, it forces us to look at longer-term metrics of causality. On the other hand, it is far from clear that the transition from oppressive rule is easier when the move is theocracy to democracy as when it is secular dictatorship to democracy. The experiences of Iran and Algeria are not positive here--while Turkey, Indonesia, and the Philippines have all had relatively successful transformations from secular dictatorship to democracy. So perhaps then the US intervention, if it leads to a theocracy (and to be fair, that's far from the clear result), will make liberal democracy less likely. Of course, turning the hand back again, secular dictatorships amongst the Arab world at least have seemed to be far more adept at entrenching themselves than their non-Arab Muslim peers, so perhaps the analogy to the countries I've mentioned (all non-Arab) isn't proper.
Anyway, food for thought.