Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Democracy in Iraq

An invasion of Iraq continues to be a hot topic in pundit land, both on the Net in in the mainstream media. Much of the argumentation in favor of kicking Saddam out goes like this: if we can remove Saddam and establish a democratic regime in Iraq, this could serve as a catalyst for democratic reform throughout the Middle East, especially in Iraq's neighbor (and our ostensible ally) to the south, Saudi Arabia (see this Tom Rick's article in the Washington Post on a Pentagon briefing last month which outlined why the Saudis are our enemies, and what we should do about it).

By and large, I accept this line of reasoning. I whole-heartedly support W's intention to boot Saddam before he is able to develop and deploy WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction).

Having said that, I'd like to discuss one aspect of this argument, that being the idea of establishing a democratic regime in Iraq.

Most of those who make the argument laid out above believe that people have a natural, quasi-instinctive yearning for self-government, and I agree. At the same time, it seems clear to me that the ground must be made fertile for democracy to flourish... the idea that a totalitarian regime can be replaced immediately with a democratic form of government seems unlikely to me. Now, most of those who argue for such a course of action in Iraq would no doubt affirm that it takes time to establish self-governance. At the same time, the sense I get from many of these pundits and commentators is that the preparation required for such action is relatively short; after all, people desire this, and so it shouldn't take too long to make ready the ground for democracy.

I'm not so sure. I don't know if people are sufficiently aware of the importance of the West's Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman heritage vis. our modern democratic forms of government. I think it can be argued that the preparation for our own modern republics was laid over the course of not months, years, or even decades, but centuries.

Therefore, I think we need to examine a bit more closely how readily the Iraqi people would embrace democracy. After all, the Russian people are much closer to the culture of the West than Iraqis, yet look at the trouble they're having in transitioning to democracy.

Having said that... I wonder if the Japanese example might be a counter-example to my line of questioning. After all, the Japanese culture up through 1945 was hardly akin to Western culture, yet that nation has fairly successfully embraced the concept and practice of self-government. So maybe it wouldn't be as difficult in Iraq as I think it may be.

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