Democratization 101

David Plotz has a piece on building true democracy in Iraq that is absolutely essential reading. He has 7 ideas for instituting real democratic reform in Iraq that should be immediately sent to everyone making policy in this area.

It is absolutely critical that the process of democratization is not rushed. One cannot create a new government in 4 weeks. It must be a building process of creating the institutions for a stable democracy and creating the civil society to support those institutions. Without that combination, democracy rapidly becomes nothing more than tyranny by election. Free elections are not the whole of democracy they are but one part of the whole.

The article raises several excellent points on why democratization must take time:

Thomas Carothers, director of the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, notes that rushing elections reinforces the divisions that already exist in a society. As a nation rapidly "decompresses," tribal and religious loyalties fill the vacuum. Citizens attach themselves to what’s familiar — often the most belligerent separatists. If elections were held today in Iraq, radical Shiite clerics and Kurdish separatists would be elected. A month later, Iraq would be half Islamic theocracy allied with Iran, half Kurdish state at war with Turkey, and all misery. (New ideas for minimizing this ethnic and religious conflict will be the subject of a later piece.)

Carothers and others insist that a fledgling democracy should delay elections until new associations — business ties, social and professional networks, new political parties not based on tribal or religious association — have time to develop and compete with identity politics. A people trained for silence and obedience needs time to figure out how to participate and dissent.

This point is crucial. One cannot expect for Iraq to spring fully democratic like a phoenix from the ashes. Until there is a system of civil society to support democracy, any election will result in nation-destroying factionalism. If such a scenario were to play out, all the goals of true democratization and stablization of Iraq will have failed. This is an unacceptable chain of events for the United States and for the people of Iraq.

Plotz continues by explaining why a free and independent judiciary is critical to democratic success, which is another highly salient point. Imagine if Bush v. Gore had occurred in a situation in which the Supreme Court were even more politicized than they already are. The effects of that decision would have been even more divisive than they were – an another country it could have led to open civil war. An independent judiciary can act as a valuable check against legislative power that prevents tyranny.

Plotz also recommends that the UN be allowed to participate in Iraq to give the reconstruction a better image of fairness. In some ways, his argument is persuasive – the US should call the shots, but allow the UN to have some presence in the region for appearance’s sake. The problem with such an idea is that the UN would want increasing control, and given the way in which the UN sanctions ended up being a boon to Saddam and a horrendous burden to the Iraqi people that is no longer acceptable. The UN could easily act as an agent to undo the kind of democratic reforms needed to stablize Iraq. If the UN is involved, it must be very clear that involvement is conditional on the UN acting in the best interests of the Iraqi people. Furthermore, that promise must be backed up by unlimited inspection and review of every UN activity in Iraq by the US or other outside agencies.

Iraq can be democratized, but it cannot be done in a hurry. It will take years to bring the process to a point where Iraq can truly exist as a free and democratic state. The greatest fear I have at this point is that the Bush Administration will cave to pressure and give the Iraqis a government that will quickly become illiberal or tyrannical. We toppled Hussein to instill democracy, sticking to our national principles all the way, despite great pressure. If Iraq is to become a democracy, the US will have to once again bear a long and difficult process largely on its own. However, the results of that burden could very well lead to a transformation of Iraq, but the entire Middle East.

One thought on “Democratization 101

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.