Nunc Scio
Monday, February 14, 2005
  Democracy Now?
Well, it looks like the vote in Iraq has been more or less a success. The Iraqis who went to the polls at their own peril and made a powerful statement for their personal freedom deserve our awe and admiration. I'm not sure if I would go and vote in the face of the very real risk of being thoroughly blown up.

But I'm getting a little tired of the constant and hysterical cries of "See? See? We were right!" by those desperate to justify Bush's invasion of Iraq. Now I agree the people of Iraq are better off without Saddam Hussein, the brutal dictator who, coincidentally enough, we imposed on the Iraqi people in 1979. So while its good we've rectified our mistake, there are still a lot of problems we need to be aware of:

1) The ends cannot justify the means. While the USA has deposed a dictator, they did it by deceiving their own population, defying the international community and using naked force. Pretty much the trio you'd like to avoid when undertaking a program of nation building.

2) Democracy is not just voting. While the Iraqi vote was significant, it does not guarantee a democratic state. And in the Iraqi case, there is a lot of things to be worried about. First, a substantial portion of the population has not bought into the process, either refusing to participate or opposing the new order with violence. On the one hand, this is a legitimacy issue, and on the other, a stability question. It will be difficult to build a state under the constant threat of violence. Further, it will be very hard to build legitimacy when the new government will be highly dependent on the American military for defense. I'm not trying to condone those who resort to violence in Iraq; rather, I mean to suggest that the work is far from done and success if far from assured.

3) Democracy has no hard definition. Western democracy is not god-given, nor did it arive on this earth fully formed. It is the result of 2000 years of unique history, and is entirely contingent on the political, economic and social milieu in which it developed. What the United States is currently doing is imposing a Western understanding of democracy upon a nation which has no framework for understanding it. What Iraq needs to do is develop a democracy which comforms to its unique history and culture. Such a system, which will take time to develop, will build legitimacy and stability. Unfortunately, this can't happen with the kind of political pressure and control the United States is exerting. What the US wants, and always wants, is a strategic centrepiece in the middle east to work their economic and political agenda. The style of government is therefore irrelevant; the United States will support any leader, regardless of stripe, who plays ball with their grand strategy. Its why they supported terror-states in Guatemala and El Salvador, while destroying the flawed but deeply progressive Sandanista government in Nicaragua through an illegal proxy war. Its also why they supported Saddam Hussein in the 1980's (during which time he committed some of his worst atrocities) until he slipped out from under the State Department's thumb. The pervasive hypocrisy of American foreign policy does not bode well for the development of a meaningful democracy in Iraq.

Of course, all of this takes place in context of a debasement of democracy in the west, where the massive public relations exercise in 'managed democracy'that is the Bush administration holds sway. They are hardly the ones to lecture the world on freedom and democracy when these concepts are so poorly served at home.

Due to the heavy-handedness of the American invasion, democracy in Iraq cannot survive with or without the US Army. So while the vote has been a success, the Iraqi people now face a treacherous climb towards true democracy and sovereignty. My hope is with them, and our collective duty is to help build something real, something not dominated by the cynical realpolitik of Bush.
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Jack of all trades, master of none, Graeme is many things to many people. Unfortunately, none of them find him very life-affirming in any capacity. He is a freelance writer, broadcaster, amateur cryptozoologist and occasional political commentator late of London, England and now based in Toronto. Most of the time, he's confused. And a little hungry. But mostly just confused and somewhat uncomfortable writing in the third person.

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