To be honest, it’s easy to understand why one would feel this way, and such thoughts are not without justification.
But on the other hand, my experience in the study of democratization theory says that if we were to install a democratic system of government in Iraq right away it would be a mistake of tragic proportions.
Democracy is more than just the way in which a government is made up, and perhaps counter-intuitively it is not even the ability to elect representatives. While those things may necessary for democracy, their mere presence does not mean that a state will be a true democracy.
Democracy is built upon the bedrock of civil society and civic virtue. A country such as Iraq that is split into two fracticious bodies will quickly fly apart if everyone has an equal say. The Shi’ites have years of distrust of the Sunnis, and the Kurds don’t trust either the Sunnis or the Shi’ites. None of the three have any desire to work with the other at this point. As Lincoln so astutely pointed out, a house divided cannot stand. Iraq is a house deeply divided.
The true task of creating democracy is instilling values of mutual cooperation and civil society. This is something that cannot be instilled by decree or treaty, but must be taught. Such a process will take years.
In the meantime, our interests are in a safe and free Iraq dictate that we cannot expect to institute full democracy overnight. If we do, everything we fought for will be quickly lost. Our only option is to ensure stability while the slow process of laying the foundation for democracy is created.
Critics of American foreign policy often say we prefer quick and shoddy solutions over doing the difficult work of actually instituting real democratic reform. Those are criticisms that have a lot of merit to them, and the true test of our resolve to support democratization may be in learning when a nation can support it.
ADDENDUM: There’s an interesting piece by Samuel Huntington on democratization theory that can guide our administration of a post-war democratic transition in Iraq. When I get time, I’ll try to write an entry on why the Bush Administration would be wise to apply it.