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Democracy for Iraq: Another Mission Impossible?

By Saul B. Wilen
web posted April 17, 2006

The faltering of the U.S. goal for democracy in Iraq should come as no surprise. Have we already forgotten the repeated modern era experience of scores of dictators who have been swept or installed into power (including by the U.S.) with promises of free elections, and democratic principles and institutions? Cuba, Chile under Pinochet, the Philippines under Marcos, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Sudan, and the British creation of the kingdom of Jordan, the kingdom of Iraq and the installation of the Shah of Iran are just a few. The talk of democracy in the face of the absence of any democratic experiences and the lack of basic and sustained modeling for democracy are but "mirages" doomed to failure. The U.S. grasped for a "false hope" to bolster the "delusion" that democracy would sprout from the desert in the Arab world solely by planting a seed in Iraq. What this administration neglected to supply was the clean water as promised to allow this seed to grow.

The sectarian conflict in Iraq continues to spread between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Visible quarrels, disputes and tensions are mounting between Kurds and Arabs in Kirkuk and Mosul. Iraqi displaced refugees have now reached the level of 60,000. The continued presence of U.S. troops is currently being justified as creating the stability necessary for democracy to take hold and required to prevent sectarian civil war. Despite the onset of the "liberation"/invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003 by the "coalition" forces, the declaration on May 1, 2003 of the end to major combat operations in Iraq – "Mission Accomplished" and the three years of "occupation" by U.S. troops since, Iraq is on the verge of civil war, the Iraqi insurgency persists unabated and a major combat operation involving American troops and 100 U.S. military helicopters began in mid March 2006. Independent experts with confidence in the success of America’s Iraq adventure are hard to find.

America’s National Security

The National Security document issued by the White House in mid March 2006 bears a striking resemblance to the document it issued in 2002 and reiterates the strategy of dealing with foreign governments by employing pre-emption when there is a threat or perceived threat to the United States. It emphasizes the U.S. policy to "support democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture …" The current administration seized on a democracy policy retrospectively for justifying the war in Iraq after the threat to the U.S. from weapons of mass destruction "self destructed." The most recent rhetoric relating to Iran as a supplier of weapons and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) to the Iraqi insurgency and the reference to Iran in the National Security document as posing the greatest present day threat to the United States are reminiscent of the rhetoric progression leading up to the invasion of Iraq. Is the United States being set up to do it again with Iran?

Embracing and supporting democracy and democratic principles is a laudable goal but must be tempered and accomplished by time requirements and imposed practical limitations. History is again the great teacher from which lessons can and should be learned. The process after World War II that was necessary for the democratization of both Germany and Japan, both culturally diverse and worlds apart in nature, emphasize the pivotal importance of sufficient time (usually not predictable) to allow for the required transitions to occur.

A more recent example has been the expected democratization of Russia since the collapse of communism and the break up of the Soviet Union. Initial experiences with democratic institutions and functioning such as an unbridled press, are giving way to the re-imposition of totalitarian government control and suppression. The hopes for democratic transitions are crumbling. In Iraq dozens of political parties and news outlets have been established since the U.S. "liberation"/invasion and removal of Saddam Hussein from power. The political process is progressing but tangible results are scant. Iraq, which has always been a tribal sectarian society (apparently not recognized by American decision makers at the Pentagon or the White House prior to the invasion) may not be capable of resolving differences democratically through a unity government and peaceful processes. The horrors of a civil war may be what is required (just as the U.S. had to experience through its civil war).

Success for Democratization Depends on Good Modeling

Democracy must be modeled over sufficient time for it to take root and for transitions to occur and grow. Along the way home grown modifications will be developed, evaluated and be further modified, retained or discarded, and so the process will evolve.

The modeling is crucial for democratization to result. Negative modeling such as minimizing human rights, minority rights or civil liberties, tolerating torture, preventing the participation of minorities (ethnic, racial, gender or political) in the institutions and systems of government, broken commitments, governmental agencies and/or personnel participation in unlawful activities such as warrant-less eavesdropping, domestic spying, influence peddling, fraud by American contractors and corruption defeat and pervert the goals of modeling democratic processes by the United States.

The Iraqis who were expected to greet their American ("coalition") "liberators" with chocolates and flowers have never met the American expectations of gratitude for the U.S. efforts that brought down the repressive dictator Saddam Hussein and his regime. The United States has not been showered with expected Iraqi gratitude for the cost in money (now averaging $100 billion per year with a total so far estimated at $300 billion and rising), American lives (approximately 2300 military deaths and 17,000 military seriously wounded) and efforts to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure – oil production, water supply, electricity, jobs, security and economy.

The U.S. Department of Defense through its deputy secretary in 2003 predicted Iraqi oil revenues would pay for the entire Iraqi reconstruction. Today in Iraq the power and water supply is not reliable, open sewers exist and garbage is not collected. None of the rebuilding efforts or predictions has yet succeeded despite the billions expended on reconstruction. Schools in Iraq are better than under Saddam Hussein and universities are more independent, but the best of the faculty has left and Islamic and insurgent groups have become active, moving these institutions toward Islamic and conservative beliefs. The streets are not safe for the Iraqi people, crime has markedly increased, kidnapping is common, and gangs, the police, militias and insurgents are all potential enemies.


A decision to go to war based on bad intelligence, a "certitude" emotionally hyped by those in leadership positions who became caught up in self generated enthusiasm and delusions, a plan devoid of ongoing planning, the absence of a coherent strategy no less an exit strategy, and poor on-the-ground decisions ever since, may very well define the events known as the "Liberation of Iraq." In the light of this backdrop it becomes mandatory for America to evaluate the meaning of "democracy" for Iraq. The mantra "(this) could not have been anticipated" has become the theme of the Bush administration over the past four years. This phrase has been consistently used to explain the following: the state of pre-September 11, 2001 (9/11) intelligence; intelligence before and after the March 19, 2003 Iraqi invasion; the long standing tribal structure of Iraqi society; the potential for a sustainable Iraqi insurgency; the inability of the Iraqi parliament to produce a national unity government now four months after the election in December 2005; the inadequate Iraqi reconstruction; and the inability to create a safe living environment for the Iraqi people.

History repeatedly demonstrates that liberation is only the first step in a long and turbulent journey towards freedom. Freedom is a process, not a destination, and requires unending vigilance and care to safeguard, preserve, improve and extend its gifts, which can be too easily lost. De Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America 170 years ago; his theories are as current today as they were then. He warns that the greatest threat the United States faces is the tyranny of the majority. He emphasizes that checks and balances are a bulwark against tyranny. He believes in the power of American law to limit the excesses of the ruler. He had great hopes for the judiciary, writing, "The courts correct the aberrations of democracy; though they can never stop the movements of the majority, they do succeed in checking and directing them." De Tocqueville further stated that freedom, "… is ordinarily born in the midst of storms, it is established painfully among civil discords, and only when it is old can one know the benefits."

Democracy is so much more than having a free election or series of elections. It demands respect for the rule of law, and decisions made by governing entities and constitutional authority. An election is only a procedure of democracy, but does not equate to the existence of a democratic government.

The Social Contract published in 1762 by Jean-Jacques Rousseau asserts that the will of the people is sacred. Social contract theory as developed by Hobbes (1651), Locke (1689) and Rousseau establishes the rights and responsibilities between the state and its citizens; and demands that democracy must be the merger between the government and the governed.

The hope of democracy for Iraq hangs by a single, tenuous and increasingly stretched thread known as America.

Dr. Saul B. Wilen is CEO of International Horizons Unlimited (IHU) [(210) 692-1268], a national consulting and resources consortium based in San Antonio, Texas. IHU develops "educational processes that support prevention strategies for solving problems." Dr Wilen is a recognized authority in prevention strategies, problem solving, systems dynamics, and informatics. He directs IHU terrorism prevention and strategies development initiatives. He is the Executive Director of Deficit Watch, a non-profit authoritative monitor of government and other deficits. Copyright © 2006 International Horizons Unlimited. All Rights Reserved.

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