Why Iraqi Democracy Will Work

Of all the scholars of democratization, one of the most astute is Dr. Samuel Huntington of Harvard University. His book The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century is one of the most important works in understanding how democratization does and doesn’t work.

Huntington gives a checklist based on the experiences of countries who have transitioned to democratic rule that gives a good idea as to what needs to be done in order to make that transition as orderly as possible.

  1. Secure your political base. As quickly as possible place supporters of democratization in key power positions in the government, the party, and the military.
  2. Maintain backwards legitimacy, that is, make changes through the established procedures of the nondemocratic regime and reassure standpatter groups with symbolic concessions, following a course of two steps forward, one step backward.
  3. Gradually shift your own constituency so as to reduce your dependence on government groups opposing change and to broaden your constituency in the direction of opposition groups supporting democracy.
  4. Be prepared for the standpatters to take some extreme action to stop change (for example, a coup attempt) – possibly even stimulate them to do so – and then crack down on them ruthlessly, isolating and discrediting the more extreme opponents of change.
  5. Seize and keep control of the initiative in the democratization process. Only lead from strength and never introduce democratization measures in response to obvious pressure from more extreme radical opposition groups.
  6. Keep expectations low as to how far change can go; talk in terms of maintaining an ongoing process rather than achieving some fully elaborated democratic utopia.
  7. Encourage the development of a responsible, moderate opposition party, which they key groups in society (including the military) will accept as a plausible non-threatening alternative government.
  8. Create a sense of inevitability about the process of democratization so that it becomes widely accepted as a necessary and natural course of development even if to some people it remains and undesirable one.

Taken from Samuel P. Huntington, “How Countries Democratize,” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 106, No. 4. (Winter, 1991-1992), pp. 601-602.

Huntington’s checklist has been largely upheld by democratic transitions in Eastern Europe, nearly all of which today are stable democracies, members of NATO, and economically self-sufficient after years of Communist oppression and kleptocracy.

The question then becomes, how does this apply to Iraq?

The existance of the Iraqi Governing Council is in accordance with the first of Huntington’s precepts. The IGC is a group of democratically-minded Iraqis who have already written a constitution and laid the groundwork for a lasting Iraqi democracy. The IGC may not be perfect, but no government is, and the IGC’s ability to get things like the interim constitution passed is a testiment to their efficacy.

The second is dicier in relation to Iraq. The Saddam regime did not operate in a way that should be emulated in any form or fashion. However, there is an argument that the process of de-Ba’athification, especially in the military, went too far. By disarming the Iraqi military, many of whom were only loyal to Hussein at gunbarrel, we may have hurt overall security as many disaffected soldiers joined paramilitary groups like the Mahdi Army. However, the overall political development of Iraq doesn’t entirely start from scratch, some parts of the original government’s structure have been preserved to ease the transition.

The third is equally important, and illustrative of what must be done next. The IGC, upon taking over the reins of sovereignty, needs to begin broadening a political base. More on this later.

The fourth is exactly what is happening right now with Sadr. Amir Taheri believes that closing Sadr’s newspaper was a rash and unnecessary act – I’m not so sure. Free speech does not include incitement to violence, even in this country. Sadr’s group was dead-set against democracy and would do anything to stop it.

If we had allowed Sadr’s group to remain unmolested in Iraq after the handover, we’d see the same results we’re seeing now – except we would likely have fewer troops to combat them. We had to completely discredit Sadr, and the only way to do that was to force him to play his hand. We’re essentially doing exactly what Huntington advised – drawing out the militants so we can attack them in the open. We’ve forced them to no longer become dissidents but rebels – meaning that we’ve now created an open season on groups we normally would not be able to attack so openly. In the end, contrary to the cries of gloom and doom from the media, the events in Iraq may likely produce greater stability in Iraq than simply leaving Sadr as a festering problem for the new Iraqi government.

The fifth is something we’ve had trouble with – we’ve bowed perhaps too much to pressure from Shi’ite groups like Sistani. At the same time, we’ve also made absolutely certain that the June 30th deadline is not negotiable – sending the message that violence will not lead to political concessions. If we concede to violence, we’ll only be encouraging these militant groups to push for more and push harder – we cannot allow that to happen.

The sixth is also critical. No one is arguing that democracy will make Iraq a utopia overnight – but at the same time we’ve pushed for incremental steps that lead to the democratization of Iraq. We didn’t budge on having free elections right away, and we’re not allowing the process to lead us, but leading the process. So long as we stick to this plan, we control the initiative.

The seventh is too early to consider quite yet – although eventually we may have to allow Ayatollah Sistani to channel his efforts into creating a responsible opposition party. So long as Sistani plays by the rules, he has proven to be somewhat willing to work within a democratic structure. Allowing the Shi’ites to have a political voice will ensure that they are far less likely to resort to violence.

Finally, we have absolutely created a sense of inevitablility about the democratic process. A recent poll of the Iraqi people displays quite clearly that democracy has a strong base of support, and the Iraqis see the end of democracy as in inevitable one.

It’s important to note that the process of democratization does not come easily. It is a long, and often difficult process. The resistance of the Sadr militants is part of that process. We will have some great successes and some failures – as Huntington noted it will be two steps forward and one back at times.

At the same time, if we fail the Iraqi people we fail the world. We have embarked on a long and difficult process that will not only be better for the Iraqi people, but is the only way we can hope to undercut the spread of terrorism from the Middle East. It is absolutely necessary we do not even entertain the notion of cutting and running. If we waver in our resolve on Iraq, it will embolden groups to continue their bloody campaign against the West – just look at what happened to Spain when they engaged on the fool’s errand of shaping their policy based on appeasement to terrorism.

Terrorism is only effective when we allow it to be. If we continue pushing for democracy in Iraq it will happen. This is as much a war of will as it is of weapons and manpower – and it is a war we can win.

3 thoughts on “Why Iraqi Democracy Will Work

  1. It is absolutely outrageous to assume that it is the job of the US military to force an “acceptable” government on a people. Iraq did not attack the US. We need to leave them alone, not hold their hands through the future.

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