Michael Rubin has an astute article on why the US should work to build Iraqi democracy from the ground up:
Shortly after Saddam Hussein’s ouster, I spent a few days with the 173rd Airborne Brigade around Kirkuk, an ethnic and sectarian flashpoint. The U.S. troops offered aid, but the councils determined how it would be spent. For example, Kurds might be a plurality, but they could not dictate. In order to win consensus, they had to compromise with Turkomen and Arabs. Technocrats and those willing to compromise rose as Iraqis pushed the populists aside.
Can this local emphasis work given the ongoing sectarian violence? Yes. Many Iraqis support ethnic militias because they provide services and security the central government is unable to supply. The greatest impediments to reconstruction now are corruption and security. But every day, U.S. servicemen go on patrol across Iraq. They visit every city, town and village. They know what is possible and can keep tabs on the money they are handing out. While billions spent by Green Zone diplomats have evaporated into the ether, U.S. troops can provide accountability.
Rubin makes a crucial point — our efforts at democratization have been the most successful when they’ve been about developing grassroots institutions at the grassroots level. The Commander’s Emergency Response Program was a highly successful program that gave commanders in the field the ability to allocate funds towards community projects. One of the major problems we’re facing in Iraq is that militias are able to buy off the people with the sort of aid projects that the coalition could be doing.
Money spend on the grassroots level is less likely to be misappropriated. It goes directly towards the benefit of the Iraqi people. It puts a better face on our troops operating in Iraq. It helps build the crucial foundation of civil society necessary to have a lasting democratic government. Much of the money spent on the top-down traditional model has been lost, wasted, or gone into the hands of the terrorist groups we’re fighting in Iraq. That model doesn’t work, and throwing good money after bad won’t make Iraq a better place.
Rubin is right — if the Democrats want to show a real change in strategy for this war, that’s as good a place to start as any. Creating additional funds to be used for the grassroots promotion of democracy is a wise use or resources, and will help stabilize Iraq for the long term. The Democrats have yet another opportunity to show responsibility in this war — and it’s one they can and should take.