Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Sovereign Rites

Al Smith was famously said to have stated that the only solution for the ills of democracy was more democracy. G. K. Chesterton, the writer famous for creating Father Brown, once wrote in an essay "You can never have a revolution in order to establish a democracy. You must have a democracy in order to have a revolution."

Indeed, in looking at our own revolution, democracy preceeded it by many years. One of the many factors that pushed us into armed revolt against the Crown of England was the fear of losing our own local elected legislatures; in order to preserve that, a national democracy was required. (We'll punt the problem that the democracy was for propertied white men at the time, but a democracy of sorts it was).

And the problems of the fledgling nation were addressed by an elected Congress, with representative sent in numbers roughly equal to population by each of the colonies.

Now those who are a little weak on our history should be reminded that the military intervention of the French was instrumental to our gaining our independence, and, yes, freedom. The French provided military supplies, training, "foreign troops" to counter the "foreign troops" sent by the British, and a fleet which was responsible for cutting off the British fleet from Cornwallis at Yorktown. Maybe we would've beat the British without French aid, then again maybe we wouldnt've had.

But the French did not bring us democracy. We had it already. We struggled to have more complete democracy, more democracy, and no military aid could've brought that to us, much less from yet another autocracy such as was France in the late 18th century.

So I'm pondering today's appointment of an interim government, which has been touted long and hard by the administration as "bringing democracy to Iraq". Democracy is rule by the people, not by an appointed council; elections are its instrument, representative government its embodiment. I'm not sure how we get to a democracy when it's clear Iraqis have limited grasp of the concept, when we've closed down opposition newspapers, suppressed dissent, petition, and protest, are unable to secure the rights of minorities to speak without fear of retribution, and in general cannot guarantee the free exercise of rights of free speech nor are we able to guarantee that the actual choices of the Iraqi people will be honored. Sovereignty, in one sense, can come before Democracy, but in another more basic sense, since sovereignty of a government is derived from the will of the people governed, sovereignty can never come until there's democracy. The government may have power, but not sovereignty.

There has been no revolution in Iraq. There's been a cleansing of sorts. But it's a cleansing like scrubbing a really dirty pan that's been caked with goo for multiple bakings: the worst parts may have been scrubbed out, but it will take much, much more elbow grease to get those pesky baked-on parts.

The idea of local councils is a step in the right direction. But the local councils aren't elected, and they serve at the pleasure of US Commanders. It is only in allowing Iraqis to truly take responsibility for themselves -- including making mistakes -- that we can see Democracy rise in that country.

So here's my plan for establishing Democracy in Iraq. We must stay, but purely as a security force. The rules must be strictly enforced: violence and intimidation will not be allowed. Provide a secure infrastructure for voting (under international inspections) and enforce a basic rule for the franchise (everybody over 18 or whatever age is culturally appropriate for Iraq, and one person one vote). But after that, let the Iraqis figure it out themselves. Let them experiment with local bodies, with consensus, with coalitions, with alternate forms.

I have my suspicions that three systems would evolve for the three large segments of Iraqi society, but who knows? We had disparate local interests in our country in 1775. It was considered a miracle at the time that not only was a federation arrived at, but all 13 colonies participated in it.

Democracy is messy in its details. Let it mature of its own accord, without timetables, appointed councils, or forced ideas of what it should look like in the end.

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