The UN Backs Illiberal Democracy

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the UN is opting to join Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s calls for immediate direct elections in Iraq. While democracy is what is needed in Iraq, democracy cannot exist in a country torn by years of civil and ethnic strife. As Fareed Zakaria wrote in his book The Future of Freedom too much democracy in a region can be a very dangerous thing unless the civil society exists to support it. While the goal is to remake Iraq into a democracy, it cannot be done overnight.

Ayatollah Sistani’s calls for direct elections are a way of ensuring that the Shi’ites come out on top in the new political order. A direct election now would invariably lead to a kind of Iranian-style Shi’ite controlled government. This would push Iraq’s Sunni minority to the periphery of Iraqi politics, which would only foster a new round of ethnic violence and split the country apart at the seams as Sunni, Shi’ite, and Kurd fought for dominance. At that point, the best that could be hoped for was an Iraq split in three, and worst would be the kind of mass sectarian violence that destroyed Lebanon.

Our Founding Fathers worried about the costs of faction, and designed a system that deliberately avoided it, which is why the US is a representative democracy with an Electoral College and other features that insulates many functions of government from the direct whims of the people. Iraq would have no such system. The Constitution would be created and shaped for and by the Shi’ites and all others would likely lose out.

The UN has also given new fuel to the insurgency, which were made up primarily of Sunni Muslims and al-Qaeda fighters. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been lamenting his inability to rally the Iraqis to al-Qaeda, now the UN has given him a class of Sunnis who now have legitimate and real fear of Shi’ite domination and will do what they can to resist such an end. The insurgency had been decreasing, despite several major attacks. This could undo what progress had been made in the region.

This move is completely unacceptable. The UN should never have been allowed in Iraq, and their call for direct elections will now completely destabilize the region and make real and lasting democratization virtually impossible. If Bush fails in Iraq because of this, the repercussions will be extreme. It is time for the US to stop living under the false assumption that the UN is an impartial and effective body – it is not. If Iraq has direct elections in the next few months, Iraq will not be a democracy – it will vote itself a theocracy that will turn Iraq into a new Iran. With the hopes of hundreds of millions pinned to real and lasting democracy in Iraq, this would be the most destructive decision in world foreign policy since the Treaty of Versailles or Chamberlain’s concessions and Munich.

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