The Fallacies Of American
Democracy For Iraq

By Terrell E. Arnold

This week US civil administrator for Iraq, L. Paul (Jerry) Bremer, was called suddenly back to Washington for consultations on the obviously worsening security situation in Iraq. Bremer's return was accompanied by grumblings from the Bush core team (Powell, Rumsfeld, Rice, and the President) about the apparent ineffectiveness of the Iraqi Governing Council. Since the beginning of November more than forty American combat deaths have occurred; U.S. forces have lost three helicopters: American forces have gone to a warlike footing in the Sunni Triangle, and at least two direct attacks have been made on Bremer's headquarters. Meanwhile, the CIA predicts that the situation will get worse, an appraisal that Bremer is reported to share.. It appears indeed time to review the bidding.
One hopes that in this hastily called review, the situation and outlook for Iraq would be looked at squarely. Up to this point, the chances for that occurring, however, have appeared slim, because the administration, and by extension Bremer's team in country, has appeared fixated on carrying out the Bush scheme for transforming Iraq into an American style democracy. The habit up to now has been to look right by what US civil and military forces are doing in Iraq and to focus merely on how the Iraqis are reacting to the occupation and specifically on their growing resistance to the occupation. The answers to those questions are, of course, terribly important, but they will be useful only if they cause the US to review and modify its Iraq agenda.
On the face of things, the US agenda has changed several times already, from protecting the United States from a monster with weapons of mass destruction, to ridding Iraq of a brutal tyrant, to "liberating" the Iraqi people, and finally to creating a democracy in Iraq as the first stage in democratizing the entire region. This transition, perhaps better called a policy retreat,, has convinced many governments and people that the US does not know what it is doing. The notion of quickly or ever transforming Middle Eastern countries into western democracies bespeaks at best a superficial appreciation of the peoples and the problems involved, but even worse, it reveals a severe lack of understanding of how our system actually is working these days.
American democracy today is in serious trouble. At the national level, the process of electing a president, or representatives and senators has become so expensive that only the wealthy or candidates supported by them can play. The process has been co-opted and corrupted by increasingly concentrated ownership of media and business, including banking, transportation, manufacturing, and energy. Legislative programs and goals largely focus on catering to the large organizations and the wealthy contributors. Our system was designed to work on a basis of majority rule, but effective control by a shrinking pool of elitists who also control both parties through contributions, has led to a situation in which not even the majority, albeit often invoked for political discussion, can decide any important issue.
In the meantime, majority rule has become an obsolete concept of governance in any complex society. Majority rule was a great step forward from absolute monarchy or despotism, but it is an inadequate concept for our time. Small but powerful groups have preempted the system. Consultations downward are > weak and often superficial. Many minority and even majority interests are being pushed aside for benefits to elites. Therefore what we are trying to export is really a theoretical concept that does not work in this country. How can we expect it to work in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East? > Majority rule poses special problems in Iraq, and these have already been well identified. Since the majority of the people (around 60%) are Shiites, the fear of Sunnis, Kurds, Christians, Jews, as well as advocates of secular governance is that rule by majority, especially a fundamentalist one, would result in suppressing their interests and beliefs. Saddam Hussein sidestepped this problem by running a secular government, but he also played a preference game that made his Sunni compatriots (about 30% of the population) a defacto majority for governing purposes.
Bush's administration is behaving like a minority government with majority acquiescence. Conservative Christians, media and business elites, and the Israelis are setting the tone and calling the tune for a government that is systematically undoing generations of social legislation that was targeted on the American population at large. This approach, more than any other posture of the Bush administration, makes it clear that neither he nor his key team members understand or necessarily care to know what the problems of instability and conflict in the world are actually about.
The Bush argument is that "democratizing" Iraq will make the world a safer place. There is no evidence for this assertion. People who are left out of the political and economic mainstreams in countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Egypt, India, and numerous others are the principal sources of the world's terrorists. A system of governance that depends on the will of the majority that elected it, and therefore focuses preferentially on the needs and wishes of that majority is exactly the troublemaker we already have. People who are not served by the system fight back however they can.
In our own system, key players have become totally preoccupied with the process. If you watch the President, you will readily see that his main business is to keep his party in power and to raise money for the next election. Since election, even in a time he avers is a crisis, he has spent easily a quarter of his time as President cultivating funding sources for elections, not only his own campaign but also for the campaigns of other Republicans. American taxpayers, of all political persuasions, paid the bill for this President to raise money for his reelection and for his own party by providing the best equipped airplane in the world, Air Force One, and the staffing infrastructure to support him, and of course paying his presidential salary while he is at the ranch raising money for the party. Other presidents have done this, but not as fulsomely as Bush.
The point here however is that our system at present is too occupied with the process of getting people elected, and not nearly enough with the business of running the country. The two are not one and the same, and no other country should copy this process, because it is fundamentally flawed in ways that make it incapable of providing government of all the people, by all the people and for all the people. Our system of governance grew up to meet the needs of an essentially white European society with differing religious and political views. Up until recently it appeared to be coping moderately well with the order of diversity the country now encompasses.
This discussion puts entirely aside the perverse notion of our insisting that the Iraqis or others must adopt our system of government. Democracy by fiat has never been the principle of our system. Forcing a system of government on another state is a peculiar application of the idea of popular governance.
Iraqis in particular have experienced centuries of rule by outsiders from the arrival of the Osmanli, the Ottoman Turks, in the 16th century to the > departure of the British in the 1950s. Iraqi nationalists threw out the British to form their own government only to discover all too soon that they were under the thumb of an indigenous tyrant. The Iraqi Governing Council is handicapped because it is tagged as a US tool. As such, it is unlikely to prosper unless it hands authority over to leaders chosen by the Iraqis. The longer that handover is delayed the more violence will occur, and the lesson of early this week in Nasiriyah with the death of 17 Italian soldiers will be repeated. The CIA Station Chief in Baghdad appears to have delivered this message loud and clear.
The real message of the situation in Iraq is that broadly representative government, most likely chosen by traditional tribal and other community means, is the next vital step. The situation is simply too toxic to embrace an outside idea. Some new representative forms of governance are also needed to deal with Iraq's ethnically, educationally, religiously, and economically complex society. Ironically the secularism introduced by Saddam had that potential and still does. But new forms or accommodations of each community's wishes must grow out of the traditions, customs, religions, felt needs, and preferences of the people seeking to be governed. The forms cannot be transplanted en masse or quickly.
There is no one size fits all, e.g., western democracy, solution to the problem. Thus there is no real solution the United States can provide other than early departure and a will-from outside-to help the Iraqi people find their own way. The argument against early American departure is that, if we leave, chaos will reign. With conditions as bad as they are, that is a hollow argument. Since outsiders and associated nationals are the main targets of much of the violence, things could actually calm down if the Coalition withdrew. In that event, perhaps the United Nations-with US and broad international support--could be persuaded to take on monitoring and development support functions, if those were acceptable to the Iraqi people.
Obviously the United States can and should promote representative government in the Middle East. But it is incapable of directly providing a workable model for Iraqi governance. The growing chaos shows clearly that US efforts to do so are unlikely to be accepted.
The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State. He will welcome comment at




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