Don't Bet on Democracy

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In a disturbing column about post-Saddam Iraq, Georgie Anne Geyer writes:

Iraq is the least likely country in the world to be "democratized."
Not only are economic and social problems there so intense as to undermine basic stability in the region for years…but even if some form of democratic government took form, the spoils would go to fundamentalist Islamists deeply hostile to the United States.

Her source? A State Department document that first saw public light last week in The LA Times.

If the State Department report, produced by its prestigious Bureau of Intelligence and Research and provocatively named "Iraq, the Middle East and Change: No Dominoes," is correct, this war is truly being fought for a series of dangerous and deliberately orchestrated delusions, writes Geyer.

Chief among them is the notion that a flowering democracy in Iraq will be like a city on a hill to other Middle Eastern countries.

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  1. Just to continue on this Japan thread, it should be pointed out that in Japan the people actually *wanted* their fanatical, imperial, theocratic government, unlike most Iraqis. Then again, they didn’t have a tradition of geurrilla activity to draw on, nor sympathizers who could be imported from other culturally similar nations not under our immediate control.

  2. >> How on earth do you offer Chile and Pinochet as good examples of democracy?>Surely you dont defend fomenting coups against fledgling democracies do you?>Or is all fair as long as the result is a move towards free markets?Point is, it hasnt worked out like we wanted in the past, whats to think it will in the future?

  3. Well Laz, at least your honest. Assasination, Coups from democracy to dictators, “disappearances” of your political enemies, all in the name of free markets, rule of law, and civil liberties.

    On second thought, I dont see any paradox at all. What was I thinking?

  4. Shawn,

    Democracy doesn’t require grace from its leaders. It requires institutions that respect and defend legitimate, democratic lines of authority. Chavez can act like as much of an ass as he wants, as long the courts, parliament, military, police, and executive branch respect the constitution.

  5. MD:
    Ask the people of Chile if they are better off. Or Kosovo. Means to an end…

  6. MD:
    Well I don’t support the actions of the US in Chile per se. It was just an example. And I don’t think we should invade every two-bit socialst shithole. But invading Iraq is logical and correct and Chile may prove to be a good model for future Iraq.

    It is the TRUTH that a low-grade thug like Pinoche laid the framework for one of richest and most free nations in South America. He built liberty and ironically now must now pay for his crimes. Under “democracy” no doubt Chile would STILL be under the jackboot of the Castro-wanna-be Allende.

  7. Lazarus Long,

    There were property rights in Chile long before Pinochet came to power. Pinochet did not serve bring notions of property rights, markets, the rule of law, or anything along those lines to Chile. In fact, because of Pinochet’s typical Latin American cronyism, he actually blocked their further advancement. Chile today is better off because Pinochet is now OUT of power, than because of his rule.

  8. Oh, NOW I see why you’re so cool to the idea of democracy in Iraq – you’re OPPOSED to it.

    And I don’t accept that Allende was a bigger threat to the Chilean people’s liberty than Pinochet, simply because of his economic program. Allende didn’t throw them from helicopters for their party affiliation. I think this difference outweighs ideas about tax rates and utility ownership.

  9. While all the conversation is quite stimulating, everyone seems to think that they can custom-fit Iraqi democracy by borrowing from the examples of past successes or failures. When building a new nation, none of the past or current successes or failures will be a perfect fit. The best you can hope for is that some of the positive experiences will be useful as forward examples, and some of the negative experiences will provide insight into things to guard against. I’m fascinated by the attempt to relate Iraq to Japan, Germany, Chile, or any other “nation-building exercise”. But ultimately, such activity is merely academic to the challenge at hand.

    Clearly there are good examples where “nation-building” has resulted in successful democratic, capitalist nations. There are likewise examples where nation-building has gone horribly awry. None of those examples match Iraq’s unique conditions. What other country has Iraq’s natural resources? What other country has Iraq’s n-thousand year history of sects and clans? What other country is coming out of a horrible dictator in which _all_ citizens are abused and terrorized? What other country had/has a leader that sought to terrorize it’s neighbors and even world-wide adversaries with WMD? The answer is simple: Iraq is unique. The solution for building a successful “western-style” society in Iraq will be fluid and dynamic. The time-table will be long, and fraught with setbacks and misdirections.

    But the question remains: “Is it better to start the process now, or should we leave Saddam alone and see what develops?” The answer seems obvious to me (and apparently President Bush, Tony Blair, and the leaders of 45 other nations). _ANYTHING_ we attempt can be no-worse than Saddam. So our odds of moving forward and advancing humanity are greatly in favor of action, over inaction.

    Also, let’s not forget that the costs of such an endeavor can be (and will be) greatly offset by Iraqi oil production. In that sense, the war is being fought for “oil” – in the sense that oil will be used to pay for the restoration of Iraq to a productive State in the world economy. As they sit right now, they are simply a drain on our humanity.

    Even if the hand-wringers and nay-sayers are correct – and deposing Saddam results in a hostile Islamic State, it won’t be any more hostile than the State that currently exists (and it will be 10-20 years behind in development Weapons of Mass Distruction). No matter what, getting rid of Saddam is a good thing.

  10. We are not in this mess because the state department wants stability.
    We are in the middle east mess because Nixon imposed price controls on oil, making us more dependent on imports; because Reagan ordered arms supplies to Hussein’s government in Iraq, to fight Iran; because Reagan supplied weapons to the Afghan Islamic rebels, and because George H.W. Bush sent troops to defend Kuwait and Iraq, even though we had no defense treaty with either country.

  11. While all the conversation is quite stimulating, everyone seems to think that they can custom-fit Iraqi democracy by borrowing from the examples of past successes or failures. When building a new nation, none of the past or current successes or failures will be a perfect fit. The best you can hope for is that some of the positive experiences will be useful as forward examples, and some of the negative experiences will provide insight into things to guard against. I’m fascinated by the attempt to relate Iraq to Japan, Germany, Chile, or any other “nation-building exercise”. But ultimately, such activity is merely academic to the challenge at hand.

    Clearly there are good examples where “nation-building” has resulted in successful democratic, capitalist nations. There are likewise examples where nation-building has gone horribly awry. None of those examples match Iraq’s unique conditions. What other country has Iraq’s natural resources? What other country has Iraq’s n-thousand year history of sects and clans? What other country is coming out of a horrible dictator in which _all_ citizens are abused and terrorized? What other country had/has a leader that sought to terrorize it’s neighbors and even world-wide adversaries with WMD? The answer is simple: Iraq is unique. The solution for building a successful “western-style” society in Iraq will be fluid and dynamic. The time-table will be long, and fraught with setbacks and misdirections.

    But the question remains: “Is it better to start the process now, or should we leave Saddam alone and see what develops?” The answer seems obvious to me (and apparently President Bush, Tony Blair, and the leaders of 45 other nations). _ANYTHING_ we attempt can be no-worse than Saddam. So our odds of moving forward and advancing humanity are greatly in favor of action, over inaction.

    Also, let’s not forget that the costs of such an endeavor can be (and will be) greatly offset by Iraqi oil production. In that sense, the war is being fought for “oil” – in the sense that oil will be used to pay for the restoration of Iraq to a productive State in the world economy. As they sit right now, they are simply a drain on our humanity.

    Even if the hand-wringers and nay-sayers are correct – and deposing Saddam results in a hostile Islamic State, it won’t be any more hostile than the State that currently exists (and it will be 10-20 years behind in development Weapons of Mass Distruction). No matter what, getting rid of Saddam is a good thing.

  12. Lazarus Long,

    Yes, he blocked their advancement, just as Allende would have. Just because one thug is replaced by another thug does not mean that the latter thug is somehow better. Most of Chile’s economy growth post-Allende happened in the years after Pinochet’s removal from real power in 1990, not prior to that. As I recall, economic growth there doubled in one year after his departure. From around 3% in 1990 to nearly 7% in 1991-1992. And don’t get me started on the banking crisis the man created in 1982, which cost Chile 20% of its GDP for that year. Because Pinochet had to reward cronies while he was in power, as well as himself I might add, this led to all sorts of rent-seeking that produced a major drag on the economy.

  13. Rwilson:

    Your question is partially correct, but is ultimately dragged asunder from the weight of its assumptions.

    >>But the question remains: “Is it better to start the process now, or should we leave Saddam alone and see what develops?”

    You are assuming Its our responsibility to enlighten Iraq, and through force at that. Translation: We will liberate you by bombing you. We killed roughly 13,000 civilians in the first Gulf War. I can (barely) justify that in my own mind because Saddam invaded another country. If the shock and awe reports are true, we will easily surpass that number this time. It seems to me the question should be: Does the good (possible Iraq democracy, enlightened human rights, etc) outweigh the bad (definite killing of tens of thousands of iraqi civilians)?

    On one side you have a big maybe, the other side a definite slaughter and a big maybe terrorist retaliation.

  14. “dragged asunder?” Drug to pieces? 🙂 Hmm, why am I reminded of the original “Vacation” movie with Chevy Chase?

  15. Who believes this shit anyway? This is being fought as part of the War on Terror.

    That being said, I think it is possible to LIBERALIZE Iraq, as we have seen in Chili, Nicaragua, Japan, etc.

    Build up institutions for the rule of law, property rights, etc FIRST before democracy, otherwise it WILL backfire. This may mean a US backed dicatator short-term (a la Pinoche) or a US commander overseeing directly (a la MacArthur).

    (** does anyone one else find it ironic that all these anti-war leftists — who fetish democracy as their key value — are always so quick to point out how it won’t work in Iraq?)

  16. May GG can report on what color the sky is in her world. She’s one columnist who can be counted on to take any international news and give it the maximum anti-US spin. Maybe she’s one of the anti-Bushies but I’ve been reading her for a couple of years now and she’s consistently wrong-headed.

    Since she’s slinging opinion, I s’pose I can too.

  17. I think State is the least trustworthy branch of the Fed govt, which is really saying something. These are the guys who are interested in “stability” at all costs and that mentality got us into this mess in the first place.

  18. Is it really that hard to imagine that if a democracy emerged in Iraq there would be a strong Islamist party that could potentially be very hostile to us? Or have you not seen Iran? It’s not that democracy won’t work, it just won’t necessarily be stable and/or friendly to our interests. Why is there the common delusion that democracy = friendly to the US?

  19. Mo,

    Democracy is in our long-term interests, even if it allows anti-American parties to come to power. Actually, especially if it allows this. The Islamists have been able to throw around promises and prophecies for years, without being held responsible for delivering on their promises. The best thing that could happen for our interests would be to have the people of Iraq vote into power an Islamist party, spend the next four years learning what their rule really means, and then vote again. There will be liberal democrats, social democrats, republican, and conservative parties springing up like weeds if that happens.

    Which makes the Bushies’ coup supporting, undemocratic activities in Venezuela so frustrating.

  20. No way joe. That would be a bad move in the War on Terror — and winning that war is the damned point of this all.

    Iraqis should get the right to vote when they are ready for it. It took the Japanese at least 10 years after all. The key to stability is building a federal, liberalized free-market democractic Iraqi Republic — not a reveloutionary Islamic hornets nest. No doubt they will get a free infrastructre from us American taxpayers, hopefully it pays off long term.

  21. geyer’s a paleoconservative. more moderate than rockwell and raimondo to be sure, however.

    i can see iraq being similar in political tone to egypt or possibly even jordan in 10 years. i don’t see a jeffersonian democracy springing up. i do, however, see a relatively tolerant government coming up.

    mubarak has his faults, to be sure, but he’s nowhere near as nasty as saddam hussein. he may throw someone in jail a bit too hastily, but i’ve not read reports of egyptian dissidents being throwing out of buildings or their kids being killed in front of them.

    if we can see a ruler along his lines ruling in baghdad in five years, i’ll consider this a success.

    -shawn

  22. joe,

    democracy requires the office holder to lose office gracefully. i just don’t see hugo chavez doing that. do you?

    -shawn

  23. Joe is right. Compare and contrast Saudi Arabia/Kuwait and Iran. The Saudis etc sat out Gulf War 1 in the South of France or whereever it is the hyper-rich frolic and gambol. The Iranians got their anti Great Satan revolution and found out quite painfully what it’s like to be ruled by God. As it turned out most of them now prefer GS to the Islamic Republic. Liberal and parliamentary institutions have to be grown. Most of the places refered to adduce the opposite ie Germany, Japan etc were already western/liberal, or modernising with a view to catching up with the West. Germany is an especially bad example – show me your Baathist Goethe.
    Well anyway – i hust hope the whole thing works.

  24. Agreed that Germany is a bad example, but disagree about Japan. Imperial Japan was a nation of fanatical, theocratic warriors that was tamed by conquest — seem like as good a model as any for Iraq (which is probably more moderate).

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