What does Democracy mean (for Iraq)?

What does Democracy mean (for Iraq)?
: The people of Iraq must have a democracy. They deserve nothing less.

: Coming home the other night, I turned on the radio and heard someone with an accent say dismissively that you just can’t force democracy on a country — namely, Iraq. I came in too late to hear who said it. And, unfortunately, the NPR reporter didn’t bother to question the statement. For it was hogwash.

Democracy was “forced” on Germany and Japan and it has worked splendidly, just as well as (if not better than) it has worked in countries that came by democracy through popular uprising and revolt. Their Germans and the Japanese — once assumed to be incapable of managing democracy themselves — have long-since and resoundingly proven all their condescending naysayers wrong. They have proven that when people are given a chance to govern themselves, they will do it eagerly and well — in fits and starts, perhaps, but in the end, well.

: Now there is a school of thought that asks, what if the Iraqis choose a theocracy or even a dictatorship instead of democracy? That’s certainly what we’re hearing from Shiite clerics in Iraq. I’m hearing rumblings of this from the anti-war club.

A superb weblog by an Iranian called the Eyeranian poses the question well:

To me a dictatorship, mixed with visions of divine responsibilities is probably the most horrendous type of repression possible. Close to a quarter of a century of an autocratic government in Iran, bringing mass executions, murders, large-scale imprisonments, terror, oppression and corruption is the prime confirmation of this line of reasoning….

Having said that, one of the bases for any true democracy is to accept the people

  • Jeffersonian

    I think what you are trying to say, Jeff, is this:
    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
    Any government, elected or not, that fails this test is not a legitimate government, but a criminal conspiracy. And having some jihad-crazed mullah barking orders surely doesn’t fit the bill.

  • Balbulican

    Ah. So if the people of Iraq were to CHOOSE an Islamic fundamentalist form of government, that would indicate…what? That they did not understand Jeff’s definition of democracy, and would have to be lovingly and tenderly denied their erroneous choice, and encouraged to continue working at it until they achieved the appropriate state of enlightenment?
    I certainly do believe the Iraqis can handle democracy. I also think it quite possible that they will make political choices unpalatable to their…ummm….liberators. It will be interesting to watch the libereators’ response.

  • KC

    I think that it would be disasterous and blatantly undemocratic for one religious faction to hold all the relevant positions in the new government. There must be a branch similar to our Senate, where the minorities (less populated states) have as much say as the larger states. We can’t just allow mob rule to pick the first guy, who will most likely be the loudest and most zealous of whatever faction he represents.
    There must be a division of power between the religous groups there. The “president” or whatever they will have cannot be allowed to reign unconstrained. Isn’t that what democracy is all about anyways, trying to distribute rather than consolidate power?

  • cardeblu

    The terms and definitions need to be clearer for all. Do we wish Iraq to be a democracy or a “constitutional republic with its people electing their representatives and leaders by democratic and representative means every few years”? Two very different things…

  • Pyecraft

    Its pretty obvious Iraqis prefer the grey shades of any “criminal conspiracy” over the black or white choices of elected rule. Muddle suits their character better, and provides a readymade scapegoat to mask their own failings.
    Prolonged confusion also fits US long-term aims in the wider region; expect it to be encouraged.

  • I strongly disagree with Pyecraft, and reject any argument that depends on a people’s ‘nature’. Almost everyone on earth wants peace, security, and personal and political freedom. While there will always be a small minority who prefer the ability to creep along in the shadows for personal gain, as has happened in places like Kosovo, post-soviet Russia, or 1930’s Chicago, I think you can find unity on many basic issues anywhere in the world. Constitutional democracy provides a basic toolkit to best balance these needs, though like using tools, it takes patience and practice. I see our job in Iraq as getting the shop set up.

  • Balbulican

    Soren, let me respectfully ask you to imagine a scenario.
    Assume you are a member of a culture that believes, completely and sincerely, that the first task of a human being is to understand and submit to divine will.
    Assume that an understanding of this divine will is not immediately accessible to the faithful, but is the product of lifelong study by a specialized class of cleric/scholars…not unlike the Catholic church.
    Then assume that within your culture everything is a manifestation of divine will, and that the will of the supreme being is to be observed in all facets of life…personal, professional, and political. Human institutions are to reflect God’s will and purposes, and operate according to divine principles. The separation of church and state makes no sense: divinity infuses and informs both institutions, and both are agents of divine will.
    It might in such circumstances be a bit difficult to get the “shop set up”.

  • Soren Ryherd

    Balbulican, I agree with the difficulty of setting up a democracy in such an environment as you describe, but this doesn’t contradict what I said earlier about people wanting institutions that will provide security, personal freedoms, etc. In your situation, it is getting a religious majority to accept a pluralistic solution in order to protect minority rights, as is the case in Iraq, to a point. Remember, for the last 20+ years they have had a secular government, and prior to that a relatively democratic, certainly middle class, and relatively modern state. Iraq is not Afghanistan. It is frankly much less overtly religious than most of it’s neighbors.
    What I was responding to was Pyecraft’s notion that it is not within the Iraqi’s nature to accept democratic institutions. I don’t believe that efforts of people who operate best in the ‘gray’ enviroment Pyecraft describes illustrate the will of the people of Iraq, any more than the Russian mafia is the chosen solution of the Russian people.

  • Richard Aubrey

    While it is true, or at least we are required to act as though it’s true, that everybody wants peace, freedom, and prosperity, good governance and democracy depend on something else.
    They depend on the willingness of the citizenry to allow others to have peace and freedom and prosperity.
    Completely, totally, different.
    How are the Iraqis on this matter?
    Beats me, but the mobs in the street don’t give me confidence. It is said that they are the usual morons organized by Iran. I hope that’s true, since that sort of thing can be managed by disappearing the Iranian agents (who were never there in the first place)and organizing the more sensible portion of the citizenry. Also, if the Iranians toss the Mad Mullahs, the organization in Iraq might fall apart, but that might be too late.

  • Pyecraft

    A valid viewpoint Soren, but its a wish not a reality. To hope that the political void in Iraq, will be filled by noble pursuers of a fair democracy is futile. There is money and power to be had from confusion, and the smart fellas have already positioned themselves to exploit it. The
    inbred, feudal unwillingness by any one group to accept that another deserves rule from a genuine, fair majority vote, is insurmountable.
    Splitting Iraq into ethnic partitions is the only real practical solution. But no group will accept that either because each would then have none of the others to accuse or profit from.
    It is geographic and cultural crossroads which will crash your hopes, and remain an eyesore.

  • from my point of view, the main problem might be the different meaning of democracy to the “western” world and to the arab world. to give an example: in our societies you’ll often find tight majorities. in some countries, e.g. britain, it might be that the government was elected by one third of the people, since they have a strict majority election system. that means, that about one half (in countries like britain maybe even more) of the people didn’t vote for and therefore don’t want a particular government. we learned to accept that the votes for the “losers” are gone.
    in the arab world, this wouldn’t be regarded as democratic. it’s better than the dictatorships many people have to suffer – regardless of the fact that “suffering” the kuweiti or saudi-arab dictatorship is easy living (at least for the natives, that is). but when we speak of democracy for the arab world, we have to accept that this democracy might look different from ours.
    all in all, it’s quite funny: forcing the iraqis into western democracy might lead to a mullah regime, if only half of the people want one. giving the iraqis the chance to develop (or better to remember) their own style of democracy that were usual with the tribal structures of ancient arab societies, will imho prevent a mullah influence too big – at least as long as the installation of a new regime can be prevented.

  • Richard Aubrey

    A democracy is not defined by having a first, reasonably clean election with each voting booth guarded by US troops.
    The success of a democracy is what happens on the date of the next scheduled elections.
    Mexico had elections for decades. In some locations, PRI officials didn’t even bother to change the published vote count from one year to the next.
    It took a lot of work and courage to come to elections which actually elect somebody.
    It can be lost, too.

  • Soren Ryherd

    Richard, you are dead on. Glenn Reynolds posted comments today by Jerry Pournelle saying basically the same thing, and I think this is very true.
    The test of a democracy is not in having a majority select an outcome, or in having the first elections, etc. The test is in the peaceful acceptance of a close outcome, the peaceful acceptance of a transfer of power, an ongoing belief in the power of the constitution and legal norms over personalities or ethnic or tribal lines. It is in the understanding that the party or coalition in power has definied limits to that power. It is in checks and balances and an independent judiciary. It is in the protection of individuals and minorities and outright whackos.
    What worries me and my otherwise admittedly optimistic view of the future of Iraq is that we’re not talking about these things at a high level. And this speaks to Vasili’s comment that an arab democracy might not look like an american democracy. And I would counter that any democracy that does not do all of the above doesn’t count.