2004 August 13 Friday
The Fix Is In For Afghanistan Election

The neoconservatives make the argument that if only democracy can be spread to Muslim lands the peoples of those lands would become better governed, have fewer gripes, and would not be angry enough to want to become terrorists. That is the theory. Well, Michael J. Kavanagh reports that the man the Bush Administration picked to run Afghanistan (or at least those rather limited portions of Afghanistan where the central government has any influence at all) will likely win in his first election because the election has been set up to favor only the man who is most well known.

But the way the election rules work, Afghans have little hope of hearing about any contender besides Karzai. The list of candidates wasn't finalized until July 26, and the campaign doesn't legally begin until Sept. 7, barely a month before the election. While short campaigns are not uncommon in many developed democracies, a 30-day campaign without public funding will prevent candidates from reaching a population of mostly illiterate people with little access to broadcast media (especially if they're women).

This means that the incumbent Karzai—who appointed the election management board that made these rules and whose cult-of-personality posters dot much of the dusty Afghan landscape—has more than a slight advantage over his opposition. And that's without mentioning that he has the uncritical support of the most powerful country in the world.

Does this matter? After all, most Afghans are illiterate. Plus, they are poor and split between rival tribes and ethnic groups. They do not even share a single common language. They lack many of the qualities needed for a democracy to work. One could simply say that democracy isn't going to work in Afghanistan and accept that fact.

The problem is that a significant portion of the neoconservatives and not a few liberals believe a universalistic myth that everyone is a natural liberal democrat and that the United States should promote the spread of democracy around the world with messianic zeal. The belief in this myth is getting translated into policy and with results quite harmful to US interests.

The curious thing about the universalistic liberal democracy myth is that its neoconservative promoters have repeatedly shown themselves to be quite willing to manipulate democracies and pull strings inside them to serve what the neocons perceive to be American interests. For instance, Paul Wolfowitz tried (unsuccessfully) to pressure the Turkish government into ignoring the wishes of the majority of Turks to not participate in an invasion of Iraq. Also, the neocons set up an in-house propaganda shop in the form of the Office of Special Plans to produce intelligence findings that would persuade the American public to support the invasion of Iraq.

Granted, America's own Founding Fathers didn't think that simple majority rule would produce enlightened government. The Founding Fathers rightly feared plotting factions and the excesses of majorities whipped into passions by demagogues. The US Constitution has a number of features designed to create obstacles in the way of a rapid change in government policy in response to shifts in popular passions. The very idea of representative government is in part justified by the hope that elected officials will be wiser and better informed than the public as a whole.

But if democracy is problematic even in societies that offer much more fertile ground for its growth then how can democracy possibly be a panacea for what is wrong with large swathes of the world where the conditions are far less favorable for democracy? The basic problem with the neocon vision of the spread of democracy is that societies have to change in ways that create the conditions compatible with democracy before democracy can be put into place. Many of those changes can not be orchestrated from outside and when they occur at all they are a long time coming over a period of many decades or even longer.

Given that the creation of conditions favorable to democracy takes a long time and can not be forced how can the promotion of democracy be the most expeditious way to deal with the threat of terrorism? In a nutshell, it can't. Democracy promotion is a wholly inadequate approach for dealing with the threat of Islamic terrorism.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 August 13 01:22 AM  MidEast Afghanistan


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