Among the casualties of the war in Iraq, the idea that people everywhere wish to savor the blessings of American-style liberal democracy for themselves now appears high on the list. It’s a painful experience for Americans who think everybody else wants to be like them, but it will be more healthy than hurtful in the long run if this bit of wishful thinking bites the dust.
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Russell Shaw nails it here. There’s a number of problems with the assumption that all nations are ready for democracy, if only the leaders of that nation would allow it to happen.
Democracy is not instinctive behavior; it has to be learned. And it can’t be learned overnight. From the beginning of the War in Iraq, I argued that we would be successful if we were willing to stick it out, but that sticking it out would require 40 years (two generations). The underpinnings of democracy must exist before democracy can take hold.
For example, rule of law must exist and be respected in a nation. This doesn’t mean that all actions be legal under the framework of laws, however. Rather, it means the laws must be predictable and coherent. What is legal today must be reasonably expected to be legal tomorrow. If we don’t know what will be allowed tomorrow, how can we possibly plan for the future. (An even stronger example of this is applying laws retroactively so that what I did yesterday can be declared illegal tomorrow and I can prosecuted for something that wasn’t illegal at the time. No society can function that way, which is why our Constitution wisely outlaws ex post facto legislating.) This obviously didn’t exist in Iraq, where Saddam could slaughter whomever he wanted and his kids could rape a moment’s notice.
Democracy requires trust in your community. If we don’t trust our neighbor, how can we feel comfortable granting them the shared right to determine our future? Saddam intentionally built of distrust among Iraqis in order to revent unified opposition to him.
Democracy requires the learned behavior of free decision making and planning. Iraqi society has been in the pits for so long that there are few people who have had the ability to plan for the future, having instead to focus on surviving their poverty and avoiding Saddam’s bad side. They need to practice planning for the future for their own futures before they can do it for the nation as a whole.
South Korea and Japan are now functioning democracies, but it took about 40 years for them to reach the point where they could do so. Before they were essentially dictatorships, even if they had some of the trappings of democracy. We may need the same to exist in Iraq for a while before we can expect them to become a functioning democracy. Exectig it to happen comparatively overnight is foolish.