Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Friday, February 07, 2003
Stanley Kurtz is looking forward to Fareed Zakaria's book about illiberal democracy, and the danger of democratizing too quickly. Sounds like a good, evil vital topic - but a little off-topic from the argument that Kurtz is having with Daniel Drezner about said book.

Best example of illiberal democracy in the world today: Venezuela, Exhibit A for what a mess you get if you don't have liberal political traditions, used to have lots of oil wealth to spread around to the masses, and continue to have regular elections. You get a populist demagogue who eagerly dismantles democracy in democracy's name. Russia is a more optimistic version of the same thing: a country run by a strong man former secret policeman who nonetheless seems to want to force his country to be free.

Is this what we're worried about with Iraq, for instance? Or Saudi Arabia? Or Pakistan? No. We're worried about Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda and Afghanistan: utterly dysfunctional societies turning into genocidal bloodbaths and havens for terrorists. And we're worried about Iran: an illiberal non-democracy organized around ideological war with the West.

If Zacharia is going to argue that elections without an infrastructure of liberal institutions to support them are a bad idea, is Drezner really going to argue with him? From his post, I'd say no; his point seems to be that changing the *culture* will be easier than Zacharia - or Kurtz - think.

That's a debatable point. Kurtz thinks that Japan is a poor model for democratization in Iraq. He does an excellent job of explaining why: Japan had westernized once already, adopting a Parliament among other things; Japan had an aristocratic elite with an ethic of public service; Japan had a private economy and a legal structure that respected property; etc. I finished his article and said: yup, Japan's a lousy model for Iraq.

His argument that India is a better model, though, I think is dubious. First of all, India was ruled by the British for something like 200 years. We are going to be ruling Iraq for, I would guess, under a decade. Second, Iraq already has a technocratic elite, which India did not when the British came. But Iraq's elite is concentrated in an ethnic minority. What happens in a Shiite-majority post-war Iraq? Do we displace the Sunnis and train a new elite? That's what the French and Belgians tried in Rwanda with the Hutus. Do we try to get the majority to accept the existing elite, now under new management? Also a tough sell. Third, India did not go through the brutalizing experience of totalitarianism as Iraq has; India, when the British came, was a traditional society, and remains so to a great extent today. That was both a blessing and a curse; traditional ties slowed the growth of radical and illiberal populist movements, but also slowed the development of modern nationalism, capitalism and a democratic-minded elite. Iraq's atomized populace will be much more prone to extremism. Finally, the British failed in a fundamental way in India: the country was partitioned between Muslim and Hindu states, and the largest successor state of the former - what was originally West Pakistan - is a running sore on the body of world politics. (And even Indian nationalism is more than somewhat unstable.)

Here are two other models to keep in mind as we start picking up countries to fix: South Korea and the Philippines.

South Korea, unlike Japan, was an impoverished, very traditional society when the Americans came. It had been developed, but also brutalized under the Japanese. It had no modern, technocratic elite. It was ruled by what amounted to military dictatorship for a generation after the Korean War. During that generation, Korea experienced profound economic development, and also, underground, political development that burst forth to topple the existing regime (with American support). South Korea is now a major economic power and a thriving, stable democracy. The transformation was far more dramatic than Japan, arguably even more thorough, and happened in a much shorter time than India.

What's different about Iraq and Korea? First, Iraq is more developed and its elite better educated now than Korea was when the Americans arrived. Second, we will conquer Iraq; we came to defend Korea. Both of these are, I think, advantages Iraq has.

On the other hand, Iraq has some marks against it. First, Korea's democratization went hand-in-hand with its Christianization, a process led by American missionaries. It's hard to say how important this was for the development of democracy. But it's clear that something similar will not be happening in Iraq.

Second, Korea was ethnically homogeneous with a strong pre-modern sense of itself as a people, if not a "nation." That is not true of Iraq at all. Iraq's Sunni Arab elite, its Kurdish minority and its Shiite Arab majority hate each other and do not particularly wish to live together in a single state. Its Assyrian, Turkoman and other minorities have been severely repressed under Saddam and will have to be re-integrated into the social frabric after liberation. This ethnic fragmentation has, correctly, I believe, led many observers to argue that some kind of federal structure would be best for Iraq. Probably true - but to prevent such a structure from simply disintegrating into unstable mini-states (which would likely be controlled by a foreign power - read: Iran) there would have to be some centralizing point of loyalty.

And this brings the third point of difference: Iraq does not need another military dictatorship. Because Koreans thought of themselves as Koreans, what was primary was to have a central source of order, not a central source of identity. By contrast, part of the job in post-war Iraq will be to create institutions that Iraqis will look to for the definition of what it means to be an Iraqi. That's a much taller order - more akin to what was achieved in India, but needing doing on a much shorter time schedule and under tougher conditions.

The Philippines are an interesting model, because this was a country liberated by the Americans, and occupied for many years; a country that started thoroughly undeveloped, with no indigenous political culture, and no sense of itself as a nation; and which is now, while still a country with a lot of problems, much closer to having a functioning democracy than any Arab state.

Iraq, again, has certain advantages: a better educated elite, a more developed infrastructure, oil wealth (though this may be more a curse than a blessing). The disadvantages again revolve around the unique factors of the Middle East. The Philippines, even more than South Korea, is a largely Christian country, and even if Christianity is not important for democratization per se, it created a commonality between the ideas and culture of occupier and occupied that will not exist in Iraq. Moreover, the United States had a relatively free hand in the Philippines, with little fear of foreign interference; that will not be the case in Iraq vis-a-vis Iran. And finally, we had a lot more time to work with in the Philippines than we will in Iraq.

My point is: there are lots of models of how democratization can be achieved in various cultures, and the model should suit the particular situation. What is going to create unique problems in Iraq is the lack of a sense of nationhood. Could this be solved by some role for the Hashemites? I doubt it, but I don't think having them involved can hurt, and it might just help. But I don't have too much optimism short-term about a vibrant, democratic, stable Iraq. I think it's clear that Iran, as a historic nation with a strong pre-modern identity, the experience of revolution behind it and the knowledge that the "democracy" promised by it was a lie, and with a strongly pro-Western popular current - for all these reasons, I think it's clear that Iran makes the best candidate for revolutionary democratization in the Middle East today. After Iran would probably come Egypt (strong pre-modern identity, but strong anti-Western popular currents), Jordan (strong traditional identity and pro-Western, liberalizing leadership, but ethnically divided and geopolitically insecure), and, if you want to count them, Morocco and Tunisia (similar to Jordan but even more backward and traditional). Except for Iran, I wouldn't advocate *pushing* any of these countries towards democracy, for fear of precisely the illiberal outcomes that Zacharia fears. But we do have to figure out how best to nudge them in that direction - and, more importantly, encourage the growth of liberal institutions and interests that would provide the basis for a more stable transition to democracy down the road.