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Will democracy ever come to Iraq?

Larry Diamond, a political scientist who specializes in the issue of spreading democracy around the world, said in Minneapolis Tuesday that the Bush administration’s effort to democratize Iraq was a “catastrophe” that has “discredited” the whole cause of democracy-spreading and “set back” the difficult prospects for nurturing democracy in the Middle East.

I’ll give you the verbatim quotes below, which are very tough in their judgments of the Bush project in Iraq. But first, a couple of things you should know about this guy’s standing to make them:

Diamond, who teaches at Stanford and is a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution (but who identified himself Tuesday as a Democrat), was personally recruited by his former Stanford colleague Condoleezza Rice in 2003 to go to Iraq and serve as adviser to the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority for the democratization of Iraq.

Horrified by what he saw during his months in Iraq, Diamond left his post with the CPA and wrote a book titled “Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq.”

Diamond’s most recent book, “The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World” (Times Books, 2008), is, as the name indicates, a review of the global progress of democracy. His talk Tuesday at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute was about that global overview. He talked about Iraq in passing, and then I asked him to expand on that subject during the Q and A.

In his main talk, Diamond said that, depending on how you score it, one can say that 120 of the 193 independent countries of the world can now be considered democracies, although some of them fit that term better than others. He then said:

“Democracy has spread to the point now where it has achieved at least a critical mass and is the dominant form of political regime in every region of the world except one, and that one, as you probably know, is the Middle East, where there are only two electoral democracies, Israel and Turkey, and there are no democracies in any of the 16 or so Arab Middle Eastern states.

“This is an anomaly, a qualification of the wave of democratic expansion whose causes we need seriously to ponder.

“The Bush administration thought it was pondering them and correcting them.  It did so in, I think, a catastrophically ill-considered way, which has done much to discredit the cause of democracy promotion in the world and wound up thru its inconsistency, ineffectiveness, arrogance and ultimately hypocrisy in setting back the prospect of democratic change in the Middle East.”

Now what?

During the question and answer session, I asked Diamond a three-part Iraq question: From his up close exposure during his tenure with the CPA, did he believe that the Bush administration was sincere about wanting a democracy in Iraq, as opposed to just wanting pro-American client state? How did he rate the level of democracy in Iraq at present? And if he was advising the next president on how to enhance Iraqi democracy, what would he advise? His answer:

“I think that many of the people in the Bush administration wanted, in their own minds — and I think Bush was among them — to bring about democracy in Iraq and thought, in their lunacy and utter detachment from the political, social and historical reality of Iraq, thought it would be a pro-American democracy because people would be so grateful that we toppled Saddam, and thought it would be a democracy — this is the farthest reach of the lunacy — that  would pretty readily recognize the state of Israel. I just don’t know what they were smoking.

“I think this was not the main reason that the U.S. intervened in Iraq. It was a prominent reason for some neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz,

“But, when there were no weapons of mass destruction, what else did they have left?

“I think for Bush — I’ll give him credit for this — I think he sincerely believed this stuff about democracy, but it was based on a lot of kind of teleological religious determinism and very shallow political analysis.

“To the second question of the state of democracy now: Well, how can you have a democracy in the midst of a civil war? By definition, it isn’t going to be much of a democracy.

“Unless you have free and fair elections, and some degree of protection for individual and group rights, you just don’t have a democracy.

“Now, there was some degree of integrity in the electoral process in a very immediate sense in 2005, but only some.

“I think the media actually did not adequately capture the degree of intimidation by militia forces on the ground and the lack of adequate scope for new types of political parties to emerge and challenge.

“Even in Kurdistan, the freest and most democratic part of Iraq, the two dominant parties… they’re not fully liberal and tolerant of one another, not to mention challengers. You go to other parts of Iraq and there’s a lot of political intimidation.

“There’s supposed to be provincial elections this October. We’ll see how fair and open they are. But I expect a lot of intimidation on the ground, not just by non-state militias but by political parties, like the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, that have cornered state power at the provincial level, penetrated the police, and they’re going to try to use that to control electoral outcomes.

“As to what to do now, it would require such a long answer on my part that I almost don’t know where to begin. I’ll only say that I don’t think the primary challenge is to build democracy in Iraq. Because I don’t think building a real democracy is a feasible goal at this point. I think the challenge is to stabilize the country and to get a constitutional bargain between the major political parties and sectarian groups, Kurd, Shia and Sunni, on what the structure of the country should be, who’s going to control the oil industry, how the resources should be divided. 

“There’s no constitutional bargain in this country, and until there is one, it’s not gonna be stable. The Iraq Study Group laid out a path here in terms of intensive diplomacy bringing in the regional actors, the European Union and the U.N.

“Why the Bush administration has shunned this obvious need for a global and regional diplomatic push in order to try and mediate a political settlement — it just baffles me. There’s not going to be any stabilizing of the country without it.”

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 05/01/2008 - 01:52 pm.

    Mr. Diamond still does not seem to get it. Democracy must grow from the bottom up; it cannot be imposed from without. Ask those Eastern Europeans who threw off the Soviet Union without firing a shot or even punching anyone in the snoot.

    Free and fair elections are the fruit of democracy, not the road to democracy.

    The goal in Iraq?? Oil. Oil. Oil. Dick Cheney and his secret Energy Task Force could tell us about setting up favored oil companies (ExxonMobil, BP, Shell)in early 2001 as “suitors” of Iraq’s oil. They are to take over all new oil drilling for lease periods of 20-plus years, during which the companies would get most of the profits, IF the US and Maliki succeed in neutralizing Sadr.

  2. Submitted by Joel Jensen on 05/01/2008 - 02:42 pm.

    “It did so in, I think, a catastrophically ill-considered way, which has done much to discredit the cause of democracy promotion in the world and wound up thru its inconsistency, ineffectiveness, arrogance and ultimately hypocrisy in setting back the prospect of democratic change in the Middle East.”

    I would wager that concerning our foray into Iraq, the same could be said for the cause of “free market” promotion (especially of the Chicago School variety).

    You see almost nothing about this in the media, but our “economic reforms” have been conducted with a skill and effectiveness that would rival Diamond’s description of political ‘reforms’.

    It is part of the same package and should not be divorced from the attempts at imposing political structure. If you delve more deeply into the designs and theories of Wolfowitz and his ilk, the goal of spreading “market democracy” or “democratic capitalism” as a way to stabilize the Middle East bubbles up as the true driver for the last 7 years of foreign policy – in Iraq and elsewhere.

    Creative destabilization in one country sets the stage for imposing a ‘market democracy’ in Iraq as ‘patient zero’ that would virally infect the entire region – a modest and workable proposition in their eyes.

    “Soft power” is inadequate for such a visionary task and pandering to allies or the international community just gets in destiny’s way – delaying the obvious and inevitable outcome. At least that’s the plan.

    Reality on the ground is a horse of a somewhat different hue.

    So what we enjoy now is the dividend of their mistakes, not just of implementation but of vision – American chicken hawks and Chicago boys coming home to roost.

    It would be a shame if we gave someone the chance to continue this kind of ideologically-addicted and counter-productive foreign policy for another four years.

  3. Submitted by Mike Wilson on 05/02/2008 - 11:54 am.

    While the comments drawing on the Eastern Europeans have merit, they still don’t relate to the Middle East. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or even a political scientist to understand that democracy won’t ever work in those countries. It does take an understanding of the history of that area. Whether people want to admit this or not, Islam plays a large role in the political structure over there. Governments in Islamic countries are most often dictatorial or authoritarian in nature and the population is never allowed to aspire to a democratic form of governing. It is a mentality that has been engrained into the minds and hearts of the people and many times they are afraid to aspire to anything else. There are many people in Russia who would like to see a communist government back in place because they want that controlled structure in which to live. The history of the region is filled with the authoritarian type of government and the people have really never known anything else. Add to that fear because of intrusion from neighbors like Iran and the obstacles are unsurmountable. Ask yourself why Israel is the only democratic nation in the Middle East. It is not a fluke.

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