The Therapy Sessions
Sunday, May 11, 2003
Will democracy work in Iraq? That, of course, is the billion-dollar question, and I suspect that we won’t know the answer for fifty years or so.
There are not (at least not yet) the bright lights who made democracy in America take shape: we see no pensive Jefferson or practical Hamilton, no natural leader like Washington. How can a democracy survive such ethnic divisions and hold itself together without a Lincoln?
You need good people to create a working, deliberative democracy, and America has been very blessed in this regard. Perhaps events will create such people in Iraq. Or perhaps, Islamic society as it now stands is so diseased that it simply cannot create them.
Or course, I want to believe the former, but I cannot discount the latter.
Arab history does not provide much comfort. Iraq’s culture is not promising. It reads like a fulfillment of Peters’ seven principles of failed societies:
These key "failure factors" are:
1. Restrictions on the free flow of information.
2. The subjugation of women.
3. Inability to accept responsibility for individual or collective failure.
4. The extended family or clan as the basic unit of social organization.
5. Domination by a restrictive religion.
6. A low valuation of education.
7. Low prestige assigned to work.
Cultures that suffer from most of these traits are always poor and oppressive, and rich democracies rarely suffer from any of them.
Iraq suffers from information restrictions (#1), and even under a new government, a certain amount of that is likely to continue because its restrictive religion (#5). #3 is a problem throughout the Arab world (witness the “blame Israel and America mentality” for Arab under-development). Women are treated poorly in Iraq (#2), though the situation there is not nearly as bad in Saudi Arabia. Iraq is certainly clan-oriented (#4), though I can’t answer as to whether the country is afflicted by either #6 or #7. (Without living in the culture for a time, it is hard to say).
The chances for a deliberative democracy forming in the short term are bleak.
Does this mean we should not have invaded?
Arab societies – like all clan-oriented structures – have a deep respect for power, and not much else. They watch American (and Western) society through this lens. When the typical Arab looks at American society, I believe he does not really understand what he is seeing. Everything to him is either strength or weakness, and the very things that we would count among our strengths are things that he will see as weakness. When we debate, he sees indecisiveness. To the Arab, compromise and negotiations are pursued only when surrender is the only other option. All the things we see as democracy, they see as signs is that the West is looking for direction.
And it is direction that the Arab world is eager to provide. This is the essence of the dictatorial mindset, and we have seen it throughout history, though we never seem to recognize it in the present.
The dictatorial mindset detects weakness by instinct. They smell it like a shark smells blood in the water.
In the nineties, there was blood in the water. The “Superpower” retreated in Somalia, appeared on the defensive in against terrorist action. It weakly negotiated to bring terrorists into courtrooms, and responded to direct military threats (Bin Laden) and brazen taunts (Hussein) with weak gestures of military force.
In the Arab world, if it is not power, it is weakness. These actions were the vibrations of a mortally wounded fish, flailing in the water, looking to escape.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have removed all doubt about our capabilities and our resolve. The Arab viewed these events with complete confusion: The US and its allies, it seems now, are powerful.
I don’t listen to what the Arabs say: they’ll tell us we’re bossy, unilateral murderers content to push their culture aside.
I watch what they do: now they are negotiating, compromising and debating.
In the Arab world, if it is not power, it is weakness. The Arab street is watching. They too can smell weakness.
There is blood in the water, but it is not American.
The war in Iraq has been bad news for the horrid governments of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria. They are now on the defensive. Arab liberals have been vindicated (they said that Middle East has things to learn from the West) and Arab conservatives (who said that Allah would help Arabs defeat infidels) have had a bad year.
These are good things for the future of the world.
They would not have been achieved without the war.
(Thanks to the incomparable Steven Den Beste for clueing me in on Peters)