Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, October 03, 2004

A Little Substance Between Debates

Kerry challenges Bush on a number of issues: the lack of WMD in Iraq, the shaky and inadequate alliances supporting us in Iraq, jobs and economic performance. However, the Bush administration now says that the point of invading Iraq was to establish a democracy in the heart of the Arab/Muslim world. No one has yet to challenge this position. The lack of criticism is certainly due to fears that the Republicans will declare any critics to be “anti-democratic.” The result is that there is no serious discussion of what is perhaps the most absurd assumption put forward by an administration known for absurd assumptions. The Bush/Neo-Con doctrine on Iraq assumes that democracy will spring up in Iraq more or less automatically now that Saddam has been removed and potential new dictators are held more or less in check by the US military. But this assumption is based on a gross misunderstanding of what democracy is and how it maintains itself.

What is democracy? Leaving aside the canard that conservatives love to raise about the supposedly important difference between “republics” and “democracies,” most political scientists have similar definitions for democracy. This most clearly laid out in Robert Dahl’s important book Polyarchy. Essentially Dahl defined democracy – which he called “polyarchy” for some reason – as a process for making policy that includes accountability to the population ensured through open and competitive elections, universal adult suffrage, freedom of the press, expression, assembly etc.

How does democracy maintain itself? Democracy depends on competitive elections etc. How is that maintained? Well, first you need to have diversity of interests. Second, you need to have parties willing to alternate between being in power and being in opposition. You can’t have an economy or a society in which everyone is dependent upon a single source of livelihood (Government run, planned economy or over concentration in a single industry such as oil). When all the socio-economic eggs are in one basket, being in power means total control over that basket 100% of the country’s resources and being out of power means being totally cut off from the national resources. This makes it very unlikely that who ever wins the first election will ever allow a second one (I’ve posted about this in the past and can elaborate on request).

Neo-cons and their political allies are fond of pointing to West Germany and Japan after World War II as examples of the US imposing democracy through occupation. But citing these examples in support of the policy in Iraq is extremely misleading. First, both Germany and Japan had extremely advanced and diverse economies with thriving private markets in wide ranges of industries. Second, both Germany and Japan had been making moves towards democracy prior to coups d’etat by Hitler and the Japanese military who later started World War II. Germany’s democracy was the most fully developed of the two with an established, if dysfunctional, constitution. But Japan also had been making the gradual steps towards democratization since the Meji Restoration in the 19th century. To compare Germany in 1946 especially to Iraq in 2003 is beyond absurd its deliberately misleading.

The bottom line is that the Bush administration's stated goals in Iraq are IMPOSSIBLE to achieve by military means. It will take decades for Iraq to establish the kind of institutions and socio-economic conditions for self-sustaining democracy. When the Bush administration says they can establish democracy in Iraq by force, they are either being delusional or they are intentionally misleading the public to further their own re-election goals. Yet, this issue is not being discussed by the candidates or the media.


US West said...

Here’s the truly disturbing thing. I think Bush (if not his administration) really believes that democracy can be opposed and they all fail to see the inherent contradiction in that type of assumption. They misuse democracy just as they misuse God in their arguments. And this makes them, in many ways, no different from the fundamentalist Islamist that they claim to oppose. I have a friend who asks, "What is Osma Bin Ladens's big beef with the US? We are exactly the type of place that he likes: fundamentalist and authoritarian." That may be taking it too far, but his point is valid. Look what the WTC has turned us into! We no longer respect human rights. Seymore Hersh has said that if we think Abu Gharib was bad, just wait until the story of Guantanamo comes out. Our moral credibility is completely gone.

The other complication that you didn't hit on is the difficult domestic environment in Iraq. It is, by and large, a tribal society that is split ethnically and religiously. Saddam managed, as did Tito in the former Yugoslavia, to keep a lid on the civil situation by imposing secularism and scaring the populous into total obedience. He no doubt played the various sides against each other for his on benefit, as did Tito. Neither Germany nor Japan (to my knowledge) had this type of situation.

Iraq now is in total chaos. And if the WSJ's man in Iraq is correct and people are kidnapping journalists and selling to Al Qaeda for a profit, nothing is going to change. This tells you how desperate the situation is. I hate to say it, but there are reasons dictatorship works, you know. And I wonder, perhaps if democracy is not meant for everyone.

Raised By Republicans said...

Yeah, I think its very interesting the people most into using 9/11 as a justification for war are people who spent their wholes lives hating New York city and everything it stands for. There have been some psych studies saying that the reason conservatives hate France so much now is that they aren't allowed to hate NYC anymore so France gets the whole brunt of it.

Yes, the tribal thing in Iraq complicates matters. People see getting control of the single national resource (the oil) as the means to distributing 100% of the nation's revenue and services among their own group, defined just broadly enough to maintain power (so either a group of clans as in Saudi Arabia, or "Sunni Arabs" or "Shiite Arabs" in Iraq).

But I suspect that economic diversification would undermine the strangle hold that "tribalism" seems to have on Iraqi politics. The problem is that economic diversification is not a quick process. What's more, making the country dependent on oil again won't help. Strangely, I think the best thing we could do for Iraq is pump in billions of dollars in economic aid but only put a tiny fraction of that into the oil sector. Most of it should go to micro loans and small business loans.