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January 31, 2005

A Word To The Wise

Lest we be inclined to irrational exuberance after yesterday's events in Iraq, Fareed Zakaria reminds us that "elections are not democracy":

By the time you read this, you will know how the elections in Iraq have gone. No matter what the violence, the elections are an important step forward, for Iraq and for the Middle East. But it is also true, alas, that no matter how the voting turns out, the prospects for genuine democracy in Iraq are increasingly grim. Unless there is a major change in course, Iraq is on track to become another corrupt, oil-rich quasi-democracy, like Russia and Nigeria.
In April 2003, around the time Baghdad fell, I published a book that described the path to liberal democracy. In it, I pointed out that there had been elections in several countries around the world—most prominently Russia—that put governments in place that then abused their authority and undermined basic human rights. I called such regimes illiberal democracies. In NEWSWEEK that month, I outlined the three conditions Iraq had to fulfill to avoid this fate. It is currently doing badly at all three.

In Zakaria's world-view, before perfect democracy can exist the new Iraqi government must do three things:

1. avoid major religious and ethnic strife
2. create a non-oil-based economy and government
3. establish the rule of law

Zakaria's main gripe seems to be that Iraq will not achieve something similar to America's 200 years of political evolution in a single year. This is hardly surprising, except to pundits who will not be satisfied with anything less than the miraculous.

Oddly, his concluding paragraph admits that the current situation is an improvement over the former:

Iraq will still be a country that is substantially better off than it was under Saddam Hussein. There is real pluralism and openness in the society—more so than in most of the Middle East. Russia and Nigeria aren't terrible regimes. But it was not what many of us had hoped for. Perhaps some of these negative trends can be reversed. Perhaps the Shia majority will use their power wisely. But Iraqi democracy is now at the mercy of that majority, who we must hope will listen to their better angels. That is not a sign of success. "If men were angels," James Madison once wrote, "no government would be necessary."

And if pundits cracked a history book now and then, they might not be so inclined to abandon hope before the process had even begun.

Posted by Cassandra at January 31, 2005 07:29 AM

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Democracies that abuse human rights? Wow. Sounds like they might need one of them there Bill of Rights that limit government power.

Posted by: KJ at January 31, 2005 07:54 AM

The legitimacy of the elections are already being questioned because such a large percentage of Sunni Iraqis avoided voting (out of fear or in boycott)and thereby causing themselves to be underrepresented in the new government. First lesson of democracy: show up or shut up.

Posted by: spd rdr at January 31, 2005 08:06 AM

Reason Mag takes down Zakaria & other armchair experts: Iraq's Summer Soldiers

Posted by: beautifulatrocities [TypeKey Profile Page] at January 31, 2005 07:15 PM

Jeff, I saw that link in your sidebar earlier and it intrigued me, but I didn't have time to check it out. I'll read it later on. Thanks :)

I was hoping that was what it was about.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 31, 2005 09:52 PM

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