Sunday, November 18, 2007

Democracy in Iraq

By chance, I ran across a forgotten post of mine from February 2003 on my original site regarding the prospects of democracy in Iraq.

My views haven't changed since then. Any acceptance I have of something less than democracy in the short run is no post-insurgency fallback position (and I link to the President's message on democracy in Iraq so it is no post-WMD justification on his part as some assert).

And I still think that successfully planting democracy in Iraq could lead to far greater victories.

[UPDATE: Michael Barone puts it well: "An Iraq that is reasonably stable, fairly democratic, more prosperous, and productive than the Middle Eastern standard: This seems to be at least one possible trajectory from the success of the surge. That would be a considerable achievement, with positive reverberations for decades to come. "]

So here it is in its entirety:

"After the War" (Posted February 27, 2003)

The President spoke of our pursuit of democracy in the Middle East. Some think this is unrealistic.

Actually, I'm kind of amused when critics of invading Iraq ridicule the idea of democracy in Iraq. They often say it is folly to think we can implant "Jeffersonian democracy" in a region with no history of democracy. Yet I do believe such critics would be horrified if we did implant "Jeffersonian" democracy: voting by white, property-owning, 21-year-old men, in a society that allowed slavery and which had the upper chamber of its Congress selected by state legislators and not by direct vote (and then there is that electoral college thing for president). I'm not really mocking such critics but rather pointing out that democracy in Iraq—or anywhere else for that matter—is a long-term project. We can start with imposing rule of law, with training-wheel democracy under our guidance. Iraq has wealth and education as well as exhaustion from more than two decades of Saddam's murder, depravity, war, and privation to make them eager for an alternative. If they still aren't ready for an alternative, they may doom themselves to another lost generation of opportunity.

Truth be told, however, I'd be happy enough to suppress the tendency of despots in the region to goad their people into hatred of America as a means of deflecting anger at the local regime. A regime in Baghdad that doesn't dip dissidents in acid or rape family members as a lesson to behave would be sufficient. A government that doesn't dream of the day it can slaughter ten thousand of us in one blow would be nice. Yet I do think we can get more than that minimum.

Why is democracy out of reach for Arabs and Iranians? What tradition of democracy was there in Eastern Europe, where democracy is growing? In Latin America outside of Cuba (and Venezuela, for the moment)? In South Korea? In Taiwan? In the Philippines? In Japan? In Germany? In Spain? In Turkey? In India? Critics even now say that the 1945 militaristic, emperor-worshipping, dictatorial, fanatical Japanese are a bad example to hold out in arguing for Iraqi democracy because the Japanese actually had a democratic tradition. Just squint a little and turn your head just so.

Well, I guarantee that if we succeed in Iraq, those scholars will identify some local Babylonian councils of elders meeting along the banks of the Tigris every third high tide, or something, that in hindsight were proto-democratic bodies that provided the seed for full-blown democracy in the 21st century. I guarantee it.

And as long as I'm dissing the notion that some people are just not capable of democracy; what about the notion that a democratic Iraq could inspire democracy elsewhere in the region? This, the critics say, is just too much like the "discredited" domino theory. What of that theory? After South Vietnam fell to the communists, Cambodia and Laos fell. Mass murder, reeducation camps, and boat people followed. And Burma became the Chinese client, Myanmyar, noted for its brutality. Keegan, the noted military historian, once noted (I heard it on the radio once, I really should see if he put it in print) that he thought our war in Vietnam gave others the time to prepare; and had we not blunted the momentum of communism in the rice paddies of Southeast Asia, other states might have succumbed. Then there of course was that little-noted domino of Hungary opening its borders in 1989, which set the dominos of Eastern Europe tumbling, reaching even to the dissolution of the Soviet Union two years later.

So could Iraq spark dominos from Iran to Syria and from Egypt to Saudi Arabia? I hope so. It certainly isn't out of the question given the history of the "discredited" domino theory. With Islamofascism crumbling in Iran, perhaps the region is ripe for the democratic counter-offensive. Shoot, just batting .300 would be pretty good. The ironic thing is, though tipping the domino of Iraq could start a chain reaction for rule of law and democracy in the Islamic world; the Iranian mullahs hoped tipping Iraq the other way, during the Iran Iraq War in the 1980s (the real First Gulf War) would be the first domino to turn the Islamic world into Iranian-inspired and led fanatics. The Iraqis may have held the line long enough to blunt the murderous, Islam-distorting philosophy that today motivates al Qaeda and prepared the region for the day very soon when we reach out our finger and tip the domino the other way. No wonder al Qaeda hates Saddam almost as much as the West.

I hope for democracy in the Moslem world. I'm realistic enough not to try to implant democracy overnight in Iraq; yet optimistic enough to think that there is no such thing as a people "not ready for democracy," as so many critics condescendingly imply. I'm also realistic enough to accept as a success far less in the short run. Iraq as a place where people aren't trying to flee bloody tyranny, where the rulers don't dream of expansionist glory, and where thugs don't find sanctuary to plot our murder in the thousands, is fine by me. Even a democratic Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq, or elsewhere, would be pure cake. We might even do better than that in the long run.

On to Baghdad.