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No Democracy For You!

November 27, 2006

Back in 2003, as we were preparing to "shock and awe" the Iraqis and Donald "Skeletor" Rumsfeld was predicting our soldiers would be greeted as liberators and treated to a floral display of gratitude, I expressed hesitation at the possibility of a country such as Iraq suddenly up and embracing democracy.

Democracy is a nasty, violent, chaotic process.  Look at our own history, at the Enlightenment, the autonomy of the colonies, the eventual revolution and, years after its conclusion, the creation of the Constitution.  Democracy has to develop…it has to evolve…and I think if Vietnam taught us anything…it was that democracy is not something that can simply be imported.

This was my hesitation heading into Iraq, a country whose people, throughout their long history, have never known anything approaching democracy.  They have always been ruled, whether by kings, emperors, sultans, or plain old dictators.  There are no preset conditions for democracy…and it was arrogant of us to presume we could waltz in, hold elections, and BAM.

Today, Ian Bremmer of Slate has posted an article espousing very much the same thing.  Money quote:

Building democracy in a state with no democratic history is the work
of decades—and it can’t be done on the cheap. Investing considerable
human, political, and financial capital in support of the construction
of democracy in two such states simultaneously, acting as if national
elections and good police work will create an inexpensive and
self-sustaining momentum toward stable political pluralism, is

Democracy and the open society needed to nourish it
requires more than peaceful elections. It demands the steady long-term
development of governing institutions that are independent of one
another, trump the power of the country’s dominant political
personalities, and earn the faith of its citizens.

Well worth the read.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2006 11:08 am

    I confess i haven’t clicked the link to read the whole story as of yet (I plan to, but i’m just taking a short break from work) but I agree with the asessment about democracy taking its time. However, just because it’s bound to take time, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t worth doing. Has there been some things mishandled? Of course…there have been plenty of things mishandled.

    However were this not the case, I think it would have been a miracle… none of the historical examples you mentioned were a smooth road. I’m not letitng those who have made mistakes off the hook, but I am saying SOME mistakes were inevitable…i definitely would have preferred less than this though…

  2. November 29, 2006 12:41 pm

    My concern is not whether or not it is worth doing, but whether or not it is even possible. Whether or not democracy can even be imported, especially in a region such as Iraq, which has seen little but absolute rule over the past several thousand years.

  3. December 11, 2006 2:09 pm

    No one knows for sure if it’s possible… but i think we have got to try.

    Cynics would say our involvement is entirely out of gluttonous self-interest (and of course self-interest has something to do with it…our foreign diplomats and our army aren’t here to help Paraguay’s interests…they represent the USA), but it’s hard to argue that if the goal IS, in fact, reached, that the quality of life of the ordinary Iraqi will improve from that point forward. In the meantime it’s tough sledding…

    Unlike some of the religious revolutions, the premise of an improved life under democracy isn’t really all that debatable. It’s not as if the Iraqis were a happy bunch before democracy was forced upon them by an Imperialist country. There wasn’t a lot for an Iraqi citizen to smile about..or look forward to They were the pawns of a ruthless dictator who had no concern for their intersts. Juxtapose this with democracy, which despite all its flaws, has consistnetly shown itself to be the most fruitful and empowering governing system for ordinary, well-meaning citizens.

    No one is selling to the Iraqis something questionable such as “if you adopt our CULTURE and become a Christian nation, your life will improve”. Rather they are saying “this SYSTEM empowers people and, when crrectly implemented, will lead to a relatively stable system that enables the people to have a direct impact on their own destiny, while retaining the positive elements of their culture”. That’s powerful stuff… but of course Rome was’t built in a day so there are consderable growing pains in even thebest of situations. And few would argue that this is the best of situations.

    With the USA domestic election results leading to a maor change in the legislative ocmposition, it will be interesting to see how this is pursued by the Democrat party majority. Things that are worth doing are rarely easy…but I hope that we can clean up some of the problems, re-establish some control..and give this arduous, but necessary democratization process some much needed momentum…not just for ourselves, but for the good of the Iraqis and for the stability of the free world.

  4. December 11, 2006 3:52 pm

    I think we’re debating in two different directions here.

    I agree with everything you’ve said…but…at the end of the day…the decision to embrace democracy or not remains with the Iraqi people themselves.

    We can come in and overthrow their oppressive dictator. We can tell them that “this system empowers people and, when correctly implemented…”. But at the end of the day, the decision to embrace democracy is theirs. It is not something we can impose upon them.

    It is akin, in my opinion, to staging an intervention with a compulsive gambler, heroin addict, etc. You can take away the needles, you can tell them how they are wrecking their lives, how much better things will be once they are clean, etc. But unless THEY buy in, unless THEY want to overcome their addiction and change for the better, no amount of twelve step programs will do the job, and they will continue to relapse.

  5. Tim permalink
    December 11, 2006 11:03 pm

    Democracy can happen in Iraq. But it needs to happen from within, I think.

    I’m trying to think of successful Democratic movements that were forced from the outside. There might be some out there. But all of the obvious successful examples I can think of were internally generated.

    Compound that with the fact that were not talking about external DIPLOMATIC pressure here — we’re talking about an invasion and occupying force.

  6. December 14, 2006 12:53 am

    “Until the pain of change is less than the pain of remaining the same, people will not change”

    Oppressive dictatorship is all the people of Iraq have known for generations. Right or wrong, it is thier comfort zone. How can they even understand the concept of Democracy. Sometimes interventions have to be forced. Most addicts want to change, but the fact is they cannot do it on thier own, hence the 12 step programs. Without support and accountability, change will not happen, and yes sometimes it needs to be forced. All you have to do is look at the obesity problem in America. I think that you would be hardpressed to find someone who feels being obese is healthy, you will even find a great majority of those who want to change and have tried on thier own, but continually fail. Yet when they enlist the help of a friend or trainer, thier success rate (success = losing enough wieght and keeping it off for over a year to drop them out of the obese category) increases to 80%. I only know this because for the last 6 months I have been reading hundreds of studies on the subject for a proposed business venture. What is the common factor – accountability. Without intervention from and outside force, the Iraqi people will never be strong enough or willing enough to change even though their is little doubt that it would be a better overall situation for the majority in Iraq. The question is, when do you wait for someone to change on thier own, or when do you intervene and help/force the change. It sounds heavy handed, but if it is for thier best interest (sincerely), sometimes it is necessary.
    This leads to that slippery slope of creating a new Dictatorship vs free will, but I just think that you can’t always wait for people to figure out what is good for them, especially when they are unable to make an eductaed decision.

  7. December 14, 2006 1:03 am

    OK a better analogy. In your neighborhood is a man that beats his wife and children, yet the wife does not leave him or even press charges fro whatever reason (happens all the time). You try and talk to her about it and she says that everything is OK and to mind your own business. One day in a rage he beats one of his children almost to death. Again his wife says it was an accident, he is really a good man and provides for the family. What do you do, wait for him to change, or force a change (via police, government or specific programs)?
    Take it one step further, one day he verbally threatens another neighbor, or even you and your family? What do you do then?
    The world is not that big of a place. Like it or not, we are all in the same neighborhood.

    OK everyone – time to punch holes in my thoughts, I know I’m on a rant

  8. Tim permalink
    December 14, 2006 9:53 pm

    I’d debate it, but, um, I’m not sure what your analogy says.

    I’m not sure you can draw a parallel between an entire nation full of people and a wife-beating husband, though, or even a non-recovering obsese one. The way accountability really works is dramatically different for each.

    For example — one man beats his wife, and he’s directly accountable. So you hold him to whatever punishment/corrective action is appropriate.

    Now in Iraq, the overwhelming majority of people aren’t part of the fighting. Because the truth is that if even a small percentage of your country takes up arms for the purpose of insurrection, the entire region destabilizes. Wasn’t the percentage of people in Lebanon who were part of the militias something like one half of one percent? A thousand insurrectionists can wreak havoc on a city of 100,000 easily.

    So how do you hold the 80%, 90%, 95%, whatever the number of Iraquis who just want all the fighting to go away responsible? Are they accountable for what the extremists are doing? Do they face the same repercussions because the only path out is to impose punishment (perhaps in the form of another strongman despot) uniformly? Do you act like they are all equally accountable?

  9. December 15, 2006 2:26 am

    Not at all, and you are right, the analogy may be assuming a lot. Like the wife and children, the Iraqi people are the majority, yet unable to insitute a change. The fact that the guilty party in Iraq are the minority is exactly my point. Some times and outside force is required to step in to help institute the change. How do you stop a bully from being a bully? Somebody or thing has to stand up to them. If the Iraqi people are the majority, meaning that they disagree with the dictatorship (the minority), then why have they not been able to institute a change. I think that most would agree that the majority of Iraqi people want a change, yet have been unable to do so for generations. Very few relish the though of standing up to the bully, the risk and personal cost of being unsuccessful to most far outwieghs the percieved benefit to most even if is an obvious step up. Come on, you saw “My Bodyguard”. Moody terrorized Clifford and his pals, Clifford even tried to stand up to Moody, but things did not go smoothly and some blood was shed. Then Clifford enlists the help of superior force – Ricky Linderman, he even pays him to help. After a few battles (and with the support of Linderman and a subsequent arms race aka “Mike”), Clifford finally realizes that he has the power within to stand up. Would this ever have happened without the accountability via potential butt whuppin’ Ricky Linderman was able to bring to the table…….I think not.

  10. Tim permalink
    December 16, 2006 12:50 am

    Wow. Jenny needs to take “My Bodyguard” away from you for a while.

    Put. The DVD. Down. And back away. Slowly. 😉

  11. December 16, 2006 1:29 am

    Your mind tends to go when on the road for 2 weeks at an opening. Maybe L.A. is rubbing off on me?

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