President Bush outlined the two major plans for what will become of a post-war Iraq this week.
The first plan, and unfortunately the one Bush favors, calls for the very fast creation of a federalist democracy/republic, much like that of the United States.
The second plan calls for a longer transition, probably under UN administration. Thinking about these 2 options, it seems almost suicidal for Bush to be favoring the first plan over the sensible second one. It does not seem to make any sense to rush a project that really is the one of a kind example to prove that America has the interests and best intentions of all the peoples of the Middle East at heart.
If anything goes wrong with this case study in democracy-building, then it’s likely that a wave of militant pan-Islamists will bring several of the currently secular, authoritarian regimes of the Middle East to their knees – and subsequently smash any hope of putting a positive spin on the war in Iraq.
Does it make any sense at all to implement a copy of the United States’ system of government in a country that does not share the same political, cultural, or historical traditions?
Not at all.
While federalism, a republic, constraints on factions, checks and balances, separation of powers, etc. are all really good qualities to look for in a legitimate government, it usually takes a little bit of time, money, and willingness on behalf of all parties involved to produce a stable government that works.
For example, look at Japan. It wasn’t until the Korean War began in 1950 that General Douglas MacArthur finally left the country to its own rule (having been military ruler since 1945). Even then, it can be argued that Japan remained under the patronage of the United States for decades following the war.
The United States also kept many of the pre-existing governmental institutions in place, such as the Diet or the Emperor, but gave them a more democratic nature than had previously existed. The main point here is that the United States, at the time, realized that they were not dealing with Americans, or even anybody who knew what American institutions and political culture were.
They were dealing with Japanese, Germans, and Italians who had suffered for decades under totalitarian dictatorships, and had never really had a very strong tradition of democracy.
The case is very much the same in Iraq. A dictator has ruled the country for decades with an iron fist, killing and terrorizing his own populace as well as his neighbors. Before Saddam came to power, there were bloody coups, covert CIA activity, British rule (both direct and indirect), and completely arbitrary border creation.
Thanks a lot, Britain, France, and the oil industry for giving birth to this problem, but I digress. Iraq is not the United States, Japan, Germany, or even its relatively successful neighbor Jordan; it is Iraq with institutions and traditions that are distinctly Iraqi.
It is not going to be transformed into a shining example of democracy overnight, or even in a few years. If George W. Bush wants to avoid a very serious problem, he will give the post-Saddam Iraq a lot of time, thought, and understanding, and as a result history will not remember him as the buffoon that caused the Middle East to go up in flames.