Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Democracy: Ain't It Grand?

This is not a crowd of New York Jets Fans

The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within.
-Mohandas K. Gandhi

After the initial justification for invading Iraq collapsed like a house of cards, the Bush Administration quickly changed their position from one where the US was trying to prevent Saddam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction against our allies in the Middle East to one where the US invaded Iraq to overthrow a brutal dictator and install a democracy. After all, democracy can't be bad at all can it? Democracy is what the United States was founded on, and WE'RE the good guys, right?
There a multiple problems with the idea that democracy can be created through military occupation, but people have written entire books about that. Democracy in the United States, as well as in other places where Democracy tends to work, has flourished out of necessity and the will of people within that country. While creating a democracy in Iraq would have been difficult, if not impossible, as long as Saddam Hussein was in power, proponents of this strategy for invasion of Iraq can't really play the brutal dictator card to support that invasion, since there are quite a number of totalitarian dictatorships in the world, many of whom are connected to terrorism and many whose list of atrocities trumps even what Saddam had accomplished during his reign. If you're going to invade Iraq for these reasons, we should also be thinking about Syria, Iran and about half of the governments in Africa.
The recent Palestinian parliamentary elections have demonstrated another problem with the idea that one can just "install" a democratic government in a country like you would Windows XP, and that as long as there is democracy, everything will be Ok. Hamas, the most active and influential terrorist organization in the region, won 76 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian Parliament. The Bush Administration, being the foreign policy whiz kids that they are, acted shocked that Hamas won such a decisive victory, and proceeded to repeat their favorite Administration policy that was probably stolen from a Harrison Ford or Mel Gibson movie "We will not negotiate with terrorists."
Some officials in the Bush Administration alleged election fraud, which is seriously ironic if you think about the circumstances that led to Bush's election in 2000. But over 70% of those eligible to vote turned out for the election, and unlike the 2000 US Presidential Elections, there have been celebrations in the streets and public jubilation.
The problem for the Bush Administration is that in order to move the Mid-East Peace process forward, they will have to work with a terrorist organization or overthrow a legitimate democratic state.
Democracy, as a form of government, does not prevent terrorism or necessarily make people safer, healthier, or better off than under any other form of government. Dictators often use democratic forms of government to maintain their position within a government. And as we see from the Palestinian Elections, a terrorist group can just as easily win a democratic election as anyone else.
Despite what you might think from reading this, I am not against democracy. It's far from perfect, but it's pretty damned good as far as I'm concerned. However, we shouldn't expect democracy to cure all that ails the Middle East. Terrorist groups probably find it much easier to operate in countries where they have freedoms that allow them to plan and carry out their attacks. This is not to say that terrorism doesn't occur in dictatorships; in those cases, terrorism is generally perpetrated by the government.
The Bush Administration needs to do more than just foster democracy, since terrorists can obviously use democracy as a tool to gain political power and the legitimacy of public support.

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