2003 June 09 Monday
Byman And Pollack On Building Democracy In Iraq

Writing in the Summer 2003 issue of The Washington Quarterly Daniel L. Byman and Kenneth M. Pollack make the case for creating a democracy in Iraq. (PDF format)

Claiming that building democracy in Iraq after the U.S.-led war to depose Saddam would be easy or certain—let alone that doing so might solve all of the problems of the Middle East overnight—would be foolish. Nevertheless, the arguments advanced by skeptics exaggerate the impediments to building democracy and ignore the potential impact that a determined United States could have on this effort. Iraq is hardly ideal soil for growing democracy, but it is not as infertile as other places where democracy has taken root. Iraq’s people are literate, and the country’s potential wealth is considerable. A prop-erly designed federal system stabilized by U.S. and other intervening powers’ military forces could both satisfy Iraq’s myriad communities and ensure order and security. Creating democracy in Iraq would require a long-term U.S. com-mitment, but the United States has made similar commitments to far less stra-tegic parts of the world. Creating a democracy in Iraq would not be quick, easy, or certain, but it should not be impossible either.

They argue that the model followed in Afghanistan of a consociational oligarchy of tribal, religious, and other group leaders brought together to form a national unity government will not work in Iraq because after Saddam Hussein came to power he killed the strongest leaders of the traditional groups under which Iraqi society was organised. In urban areas all the power brokers were part of the regime and hence are not suitable to be brought into a new government.

Their argument for the success of democracy building efforts in other parts of the world does not sound so convincng when one sees the extent to which some of the countries which are nominally democratic are lacking when examined using various measurements of freedom and good government. See the UN Human Development Report 2002 (2.7 Megabytes in PDF format or individual chapters can be downloaded separately). The chart which compares 173 countries by various measures of political development starts on PDF reader page 52 or document page 38. However, Panama (which the United States did invade in recent history) scores better on a number of measures than Mexico (which the United States hasn't invaded for a long time). One might construe some of the results in that table as a call for more invasions. After all, Mexico borders on the United States and the limitations on freedom there make problems for the United States that can be seen on our southern border.

Another problem with their argument is that while they make reference to the problems that tribalism poses as an obstacle to the development of democracy they really do not address the argument that consanguineous marriage is the biggest obstacle to the development of democracy in the Middle East. See also here and here for more on this argument. They make the argument that the Kurds have achieved some measure of success in developing democracy in the north of Iraq. It would be interesting to know whether consanguinity is any lower among then Kurds than among the Iraqi Arabs. It would also be interesting to know whether there are differences in consanguinity rates in urban versus rural areas of Iraq and whether the rates are falling.

They make a good argument from history that the US has previously seemed to be unwilling to maintain a long term presence in a country and yet in spite of initial pronouncements to the contrary went on to do just that:

A final argument against democratization for Iraq is that the United States’ own lassitude will lead to an early withdrawal, leaving Iraq’s democracy still-born. The claim that the United States would not be willing to sustain a lengthy commitment has been made—and disproven—repeatedly. In his new history of U.S. decisionmaking about Germany after World War II, Michael Beschloss relays countless incidents in which senior U.S. policymakers, in-cluding President Franklin D. Roosevelt, asserted that the American people would not be willing to keep troops in Europe for more than one or two years. Beschloss quotes then-Senator Burton Wheeler (D-Mont.) charging that the American people would not tolerate a lengthy occupation of Eu-rope, which he called a “seething furnace of fratricide, civil war, murder, dis-ease, and starvation.”12 Similar statements are made about Iraq today by those who claim that the United States will not be willing to do what is nec-essary to help democracy flourish in Iraq.

They make the very important argument that the cost of failure is too high:

Failure to establish democracy in Iraq, on the other hand, would be disas-trous. Civil war, massive refugee flows, and even renewed interstate fighting would likely resurface to plague this long-cursed region. Moreover, should democracy fail to take root, this would add credence to charges that the United States cares little for Muslim and Arab peoples—a charge that now involves security as well as moral considerations, as Washington woos the Muslim world in its war on terrorism. The failure to transform Iraq’s govern-ment tarnished the 1991 military victory over Iraq; more than 10 years later, the United States must not make the same mistake.

The essay is 18 pages long but worth a read. Also, the UNDP document is quite long but the meat of it is in the table I pointed you to.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 June 09 11:35 AM  Mideast Iraq Human Nature

Steve Sailer said at June 9, 2003 4:11 PM:

You can look up hundreds of cousin marriage statistics at consang.net. I don't recall whether Kurds are there specifically.


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