[Previous] [Main Index] [Next]

Monday, March 29, 2004

The Acute Need for the New US Policy in the Arab World: #2 of an 8 article series.

This is the second in a five-article series on the radical shift in US foreign policy toward the Middle East and the rest of the Muslim world --- an explicit commitment, vented twice by President Bush in two major speeches last November, then followed by several concrete criticisms of nominally Arab allies like Egypt, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia, to push for liberalization and democratic reforms of the existing Arab dictatorships. The final touches on the policy, after some initial consultation with NATO allies and almost all Arab governments, are being worked out by the State Department. When they are through, the new detailed policy statement is scheduled to be made public at the next G-8 meeting in the state of Georgia early this June.


Good-Bye Dictators

Recall the key points from the first article in the series, all summarized essentially in President Bush's policy declaration last November:

"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe --- and in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty . . . As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish," the President added, "it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export.

"And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo."

The President then went on to criticize, you'll remember, traditional US allies in the region, starting with the dictatorial regimes in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. His criticisms have continued, right through last week, when another traditional US ally in the region, Tunsia, came in for similar reproaches. See AP


A Series of Key Questions Rears Up

In particular, four related questions vie for our concerns here and in the next article:

1. Can such a bold policy promote effective change in the Arab world?

2. Why is a US initiative even needed?

3. Why not let the Arab countries continue with their notoriously flawed political and economic status quo --- the 300 million Arab peoples exporting less than tiny Finland with 4 million people, leaving aside oil --- as almost all the EU governments would prefer?

4. Why not await domestic changes to occur within the Arab world, as some Middle East specialists hope for ---- the same ones, by the way, who were totally inept in foreseeing anything like Al Qaeda and the 9/11 massacres, while assuring us that Islamist militant movements were essentially benign . . harbingers of a new civil society in the 22 Arab dicatorships?

The Answers to the Latter 3 Questions Are Simple and Straightforward.

2. The status quo in the Middle East is cram-full of danger, a breeding ground for militant fundamentalist Muslim movements and terrorism, with bin Ladenism and his magnetic appeal a direct outgrowth of the existing political and economic failures of the Arab dictators and their henchmen. President Bush put the danger crisply in his State of the Union address this January:

"As long as the Middle East remains a place of tyranny and despair and anger, it will continue to produce men and movements that threaten the safety of America and our friends, so America is pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East"

3. The EU preference for managerial realism --- working with Arab dictators, including lots of lucrative industrial and financial contracts, while issuing now and then an empty declaration about the need for respecting human rights --- adds up to a formula for disaster, a head-in-the-sands form of appeasement. Most of all, it ignores the pervasive social and ideological breeding ground throughout North Africa and the Middle East, including Shiite Iran, that has spawned swarms of conspiratorial, racist, militantly anti-Western fundamentalisms and the support for their terrorist offshoots. [To clarify quickly: in EU governmental circles, only Joschka Fischer --- the German Foreign Secretary --- has so far spoken with any enthusiasm about promoting political and social change in the Middle East. ]

4. At the same time, there are almost no indigenous democratic forces at work in the Arab world that have a chance of bringing about major political or economic change of a liberalizing, democratic sort --- at any rate, not on their own. The progressive middle classes have either been co-opted or defeated by the dictators and their tribal-clan and clientele networks --- or just driven into passivity, more fearful of the Islamist surge than of the repressive secret-police rule that many had once hoped they could beat back by political activity.

Not for nothing did the recent Pew Survey of Global Attitudes find that a large majority or plurality in the Muslim countries surveyed except in democratic and secular Turkey admired bin Laden..

Keep in mind that a secret Saudi poll, administered shortly after 9/11 and leaked to the western media, found that 95% of Saudi men between 25 and 41 years of age admired bin Laden. That was the fall of 2001. A few months later, a Gallup Poll taken in 9 Arab countries showed that 60% of those queried denied that Muslims had even been involved in the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C.



The Crux Query

All of which leaves us with the first question --- the biggest challenge of all: can democracy be promoted in the Middle East, especially from the outside . . . given 1400 years of Arab despotism, interrupted by a long 4 century period of Ottoman imperial despotism and a much briefer one of European imperialism, along with all the related traditions that grew up around such an unbroken line of autocratic rule: above all, winner-take-all politics, conspiratorial opposition, rife corruption and nepotism, a fully controlled media, and the total lack of a rule of law in the western sense of the term? Not to mention the systematic discrimination of women, which does vary across the Arab dictatorships: much the worse in Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, better in Tunisia at the other end of the spectrum. Even in Tunisia, though, the commitment to improve women's rights --- legal, civil, educational, professional --- remains largely left floating in lofty discourse and proclamations.

So yes, we're back to the first question.

There's no easy answer to it. We can, however, speculate with some comparative insights, gleaned from the spread of democratic politics in the world beyond West Europe and North America in the last several decades --- including, you'll note, in secular Turkey . . . a country of 60 million people who have managed after three or four generations of political and economic modernization, with off-and-on ethnic strife with the Kurdish minority, to develop what looks like a promising system of parliamentary rule, fairly accountable government, secular politics, and the beginning of what we can hope is a clear rule of law. It's not perfect, Turkish democracy. The rule of law is still uncertain, really only in its early stages.


All of Which Brings Us to Today's Main Concern:

We need an analytical framework for defining democracy and its rival forms of government. Once we have such a comparative touchstone, we can make better sense of Turkey's democratic evolution --- no, it's not the same as Australia's or even Italy's, despite a narrowing of the gap recently --- and more important, we'll be better situated to generalize about the prospects of democratic reform in the Arab world. Even if those prospects were to reduce the gap with secular Turkey, a revolution would have started in the Arab world . . . the one part of the globe, remember, where democratic changes are totally absent. Even in much poorer Tropical Africa, there is a handful of promising electoral democracies; in Asia --- think of India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Thailand --- there are several impressively institutionalized democracies. Come to that, Indonesia --- a Muslim country of 230 million people --- will be holding free elections this fall.

Not least, conceivably --- over a long period of domestic change --- Arab public opinion might similarly draw closer to the contempt in which the Turks hold a megalomaniacal terrorist like bin Laden. Remember here: the war on terrorism is a multi-faceted challenge: diplomatic, military, a question of shared intelligence and police work, a sustained effort to stop the proliferation of WMD pursued by dangerous regimes --- but also in large part a clash of ideas and ideologies: democracy and the rule of law vs. regressive, racist Islamist fundamentalisms of various sorts, all infused with jihad-zeal.


The Core Problem

The latter challenge --- the root causes behind bin Ladenism and other fervent, conspiratorial Islamist movements --- requires ideological warfare, a sustained campaign to find and support modernizing groups within Muslim countries and progressive political change. Military force in the war on terrorism, by contrast, is of secondary importance, beyond attacking terrorist camps and destroying the most ruthless and anti-Western regimes like those that flourished for years in Taliban Afghanistan and Baathist Iraq.

Is prodding progressive and liberalizing changes within, say, the Arab world impossible for outside countries like the US? Again, no easy answer. That said, as we'll see, the changes that have been set loose in Iraq --- even if we don't yet know the outcome --- have already uncoiled a widening array of domestic repercussions elsewhere in the Arab world, not to mention neighboring Shiite Iran . . . most of them in the right direction, if only in their initial, baby-step stages of development.

And so, right off . . .

Consider The Following Scheme, A Classificatory Device for Generalizing About These Matters

Untitled Document
Solid Tested Democracy Transitional Democracy Soft Authoritarianism Hard Authoritarianism Quasi- or Post- Totalitarianism Totalitarianism
Old, Established     US, West Europe, Japan , Israel Australia have been democracies for decades. Costa Rica too.   New Democracies, India Spanning the two groups (old or new), given its authoritarian rule in the mid-1970s Chile , Argentina , Brazil , Uruguay , Philippines , South Korea , Taiwan are newer, fairly solid democracies that have had several elections, changes of opposition, and have weathered big economic or security challenges.   Electoral Democracies:     Varying Liberal Constitutional Prospects Russia , East Europe, most of Latin America, Thailand , A tiny group of African states Earlier: Weimar Republic and Japan im the 1920s.  Mexico Many in Latin America and some in Asia , eg. Thailand , may become solid democracies.  Others like Russia are more a question-mark.             Gulf States , Much of SE Asia , African States   Indonesia moves into the transitional column after its forthcoming election this year.                               Syria , Some former USSR republics, Some African states, Sudan , Saudi Arabia   Syria's Baathist regime , though brutal, lacked the total hold over society and the economy that Saddamite Iraq had. And its brutality compared to Saddam's was limited. Secret police pervasive.   Most Arab states probably span the soft-hard authoritarian grouping.               Post-Stalin Russia , Post-Mao China :     Probably Shiite Iran (hard to classify: official Shia ideology and administration of the Sharia, but an elected wing that contests the power and secret police rule of the hard-line Mullahs. Probably it could overlap with soft-authoritarianism) China actually looks more like a mix of Post-Totalitarianism and Soft Authoritarianism: its dilemma is how to maintain a CP power monopoly and become fully modern and advanced.           Maoism, Nazism, Stalinism, Pol Pot, Taliban Afghanistan , Saddamite Iraq                                    
Traits Systems have been tested; and at least two or more times, opposition has taken power peacefully. A rule of law has emerged or is emerging.   Note : There may be higher quality and lower quality democracies here  (eg, Italy with its extensive corruption and clientelism vs. Scandinavia). In Latin America, only Chile does well in limiting corruption. Traits These are systems in transition from authoritarian or quasi-authoritarian regimes. Several dozen countries have emerged into this category the last 25 years or so, not least after the cold war. Some will become solid democracies; others not; yet others will revert to authoritarianism. In many of these countries --- not all, mind you --- there are dominant coalitions, usually a ruling party, that limit the scope of electoral opposition and power-sharing. In many others, power oscillates between competing but fairly corrupt and ineffectual elites, and changes in office-holders don't lead to more effective governmental policies. Traits Though these sys-stems restrict democratic competition for office and restrict or repress basic civic and political liberties, they may enjoy different degrees of legitimacy. Coercion is then limited for the most part. Still, most rule depends on the secret police and various forms of bribing or crushing potential opponents. A rule of law is absent or barely exists. No legal political opposition is recognized in any real sense either. Traits Lacking legitimacy, these systems use a high degree of threat and coercion to maintain power (though efforts may be made, not least in foreign policy, to gain legitimacy: e.g. standing up to America or the West or for true Islam). Civil society is largely barren. Any claims to a rule of law are a cruel joke. Traits Single party dictatorship and an official ideology prevail, but widespread use of terror is limited; and ideology is itself gradually diluted and ritualistic. Little or no social mobilization of the masses for big ideological causes. State-controlled capitalism usually prevails, though as in China today limited free markets can emerge. Traits Single party monopoly, official ideology, constant social mobilization, extensive terror, usually a charismatic leader Totally administered societies, with no free markets or civil society (no autonomous groups, voluntary associations or professional groups or trade unions or free churches permitted) A widespread use of terror and scapegoated internal and external enemies are pervasive.


Why These Six Different Groupings?

Yes, why not just two --- democratic or non-democratic --- or further finer distinctions such as distinguishing between Presidential democratic systems, like France's or the US's, and parliamentary systems? Or further still, between presidential systems that have a clear separation of powers like the US between the legislature and executive and courts (the formal constitutional status of almost all Latin America) and those like France's and Russia's that have a parliament and the need for a Prime Minister and Cabinet to enjoy a majority in it for the system to work?

The simple, straightforward answer: in the social sciences, with vaguer concepts whose meanings can also change over time for making sense of human societies and behavior, any classificatory scheme should be viewed in pragmatic terms.

In particular, by dividing political or economic or social matters in different groups, such a scheme allows for generalizing about what the members of each group have in common and how they differ collectively from other groupings. But note: almost always, a tension will arise in such classifications between precision and the level of generalization that can be said the groups: what they have in common and what distinguishes them. The more groups an analyst distinguishes among, say, political system, the more precise the observations are likely to be about each of them and their differences --- but by the same token, the more limited in scope those observations will probably be. Oppositely, the fewer the groupings, the greater the danger that things in need of being separated out and distinguished are thrown together, and so lead to facile over-generalization.

Shift your attention now to the democratic categories, especially the left-side: solid and effective democracies that have been tested. All points about classifying schemes will emerge with clarity as the argument uncoils farther.



I. What Isn't Helpful

A fairly typical kind of classification --- found in the top row of the table here --- is limited to distinguishing only two kinds of political systems: democratic and non-democratic. From one angle, that makes sense if you're looking at what, say, Mexico and Britain have in common --- free elections for governmental posts in the executive and legislature --- as opposed to the 21 Arab dictatorships or clerical-fascist Iran, where the latest election was so blatantly manipulated that the officially permitted opposition parties (themselves heavily restricted) tended to boycott the ballot.

On the other hand, to group Mexico and Britain under one label --- both democratic --- misses way too much that distinguishes them, currently and historically. Consider the record.

  • Mexico has had only one generally free election in its history for the powerful presidency --- in 2000 --- and the elections for the national Congress before then were manipulated in various degrees too. Britain, by contrast, has had dozens of free elections over the 170 years since the Reform Bill of 1832. That act ended the rotten borough system in existence for a century and a half that favored the gentry and aristocracy in the countryside, all at the expense of the booming cities that had grown up since then; then, in the 1866 and again 1884, the working class got the vote, followed by subsequent extensions of the vote to the male electorate and then after 1918 to women.

  • Again, Britain is a stand-out country where a clear rule of law prevails: even Prime Ministers can be obliged by public opinion, as happened last year over Iraq, to appoint a Royal Commission to look into governmental behavior, and generally corruption and nepotism are limited and legally punished with success most of the time except in limited forms, particularly on the municipal and other levels of government. Mexico, by contrast ---despite the improvement in human rights since the early 1990s: above all, a more vigorous free press and lots of impressive human rights groups --- is rife with corruption and nepotism, and its underground economy, like Brazil's, is reckoned to be around 50% of GDP.


And so?

To put Britain and Mexico in the same category as democratic countries blurs all these distinctions, even if both, taken together with other, even minimally democratic countries, can be grouped as having had relatively free elections compared to the 21 Arab dictatorships or recently Shiite Iran or several dozen other non-democratic countries.

At a minimum, then, it seems useful to distinguish between stable and effective democracies --- whose main traits will be singled out in a moment or two --- from newer or less effective democracies that, all the same, have elections with a fair degree of open competition, as in Russia recently when Putin won overwhelming re-election despite major doubts about the manipulation of the media --- now generally less free than a decade ago --- or the vigor of other democratic institutions in the country.


As our table shows, we call those newer democracies that have emerged out of the ruins of former authoritarian or totalitarian systems "transitional democracies" --- a term that, though widely used in the literature, can be misleading.

The category is at best a grey zone. Deciding which countries to put in it --- usually, competitive elections are the minimal requirement, fairly held (a vague measure) --- is a matter of subjective opinion. No consensus exists in comparative analysis. No surprise, then, considering the vagueness and other ambiguities --- different organizations or scholars come up with different estimates. As we'll see, some list as many as 100 countries in this grey zone --- most moving away from clear authoritarianism since the early 1980s, and then again after the end of the cold war. Some scholarly work halves that number.

What is clear is that there is no set of irreversible driving forces that will propel transitional democracies solid, effective democracies. Some might, say about 20. Others will languish for decades in this gray zone: they'll hold elections, but a rule of law, limits on corruption in office, and effective policies --- along with a widespread sense of citizenship participation --- will likely not emerge for decades, if ever. Other countries in this gray zone may revert to authoritarian rule again.

[Sidebar Clarification: Why the big range for the number of transitional democracies? The answer: mainly because of different ranking methods used by diverse organizations.

As for the lower limit of about 55 countries, it derives from Freedom House's surveys. One of the oldest organizations that ranks countries by political rights and civil liberties as well as on other democratic categories, Freedom House now finds in its 2004 report that there are about 88 countries that are free, representing 2.8 billion people. But note. Freedom House doesn't distinguish between transitional democracies and solid and established ones; in that case, the number in the transitional category would have to be considered as shrinking to about 50-55 countries. The upper limit for transitional democracies, 100 (about half the world's 190 independent countries) --- which seems too lax --- was used by Thomas Carothers, a well-known specialist, in a 2002 article published in the
Journal of Democracy. Carothers himself scorned such a high number. He tends in his stimulating analysis to lean toward the lower limit, while adding that only about 20 countries or so now called transitional will end up as solid, effective democracies.

So we're back to a key methodological point: classifications in the social sciences are bound to be vaguer and most controversial than in the natural sciences. The boundaries will be fuzzier between groupings; the shared traits in each grouping will themselves be open to controversy. Still, it's not hard finding what, say, the English-speaking democracies and the Continental EU countries all have in common. By the same logic, despite varying in brutality and the presence of the secret police, it's not hard to find that all 22 of the Arab countries are dictatorships save for transitional Iraq. "Not a single Arab leader has ever been peacefully ousted at the ballot box," The Economist rightly notes this very week. "Even sub-Saharan Africa does a lot better: there, no less than 18 regimes have bowed out, at the voters' behest, since 1990 . . . "]


II. What Distinguishes Stable and Effective Democracies?

About 5 or 6 key traits, shared by about 35-40 countries: mostly in the EU and the English-speaking world as late as the end of the cold war, with essentially only Japan and Israel the exceptions, plus remarkably India . . . something of a miracle country, where 1 billion people of different religions and ethnicity and even a fair amount of communal strife, not to mention, widespread poverty, nonetheless has sustained an impressive democratic system and something recognizable as a rule of law for almost six decades now. (The exception was a brief period of emergency rule in the 1970s.) Since 1990 or so, a handful or two of East Asian and Latin American countries --- which we'll name shortly --- have joined the democratic camp, as have a half dozen or so former Communist countries in East Europe.


III. The Criteria That Count

Ideally, to be ranked in this group --- a solid and effective democracy --- a country's political system needs to score high on these counts:

(1) Free, constitutionally specified elections among competing candidates exists . . . these days, in large countries, with millions of voters or hundreds of millions of them, representing political parties.

(2) A solid respect for civil liberties, including the rights of free expression, organization, and voting, is effectively institutionalized.

In effect, a free media and freely organized political parties with more or less equal access among the major parties to the media are essential to ensure effective voting, as well as accountability of political leaders. Similarly, any parties that respect the constitutional order should, while in opposition, be regarded as legitimate and having a right to criticize the government and organize for the next elections to win office for their own candidates.

(3) Transparency of political leadership has to be evident --- and hence accountability to the legislature or public opinion and the courts, if need be, for misdeeds or fraud in office.

The ultimate punishment, even if the courts don't intervene and, say, impeachment of a President doesn't occur --- or, in parliamentary systems, a Cabinet government falls because it loses it majority in the legislature --- is defeat at the next general election.

Generally, legislatures vary in their ability to monitor and hold accountable a government for its behavior, especially misdeeds or fraud or rife corruption. The US Congress is strong in this regard; the French National Assembly generally weak. Similarly, as Nixon and Clinton found out in the last generation --- for that matter, Reagan came close in the Iran-Contra affair of the mid-1980s --- serious misbehavior can lead to a threat of impeachment and even force a powerful president like Nixon, who won in a landslide in 1972, out of office to years later

(4) A rule of law prevails:

A rule of law exists in a society only if all citizens, irrespective of gender or ethnicity or social position --- come to that, irrespective of political office --- are treated equally and fairly before the law,with both constitutional and practical guarantees that their fundamental human rights are respected. To protect citizens in this way, a legal system has to be grounded in fair, transparent, and effective judicial processes, whether against arbitrary state authority or the lawless behavior of powerful private groups and individuals. (For clarification, see this link.)

To ensure such transparency, fairness, and equality, an independent judiciary --- free of political manipulation and corruption --- has to exist, and the law needs to be applied against all abusers, however powerful, with clear legal and constitutional guidelines. Citizens, ideally, should feel that they have fair access to justice when their rights are threatened or abused. Judges, prosecutors, and lawyers all need to be trained to respect the authority and fairness of the law.

Similarly, the police and other security forces need to be under constitutional supervision by the courts; their misdeeds or manipulations have to be discovered quickly and punished too. For office-holders, elected or appointed, corruption in office needs to be clearly outlawed and legally and effectively punished.

In the end, what in large part distinguishes lots of the 30-35 countries in the solid democratic group --- into higher and lower quality democracies --- can be found in the extent to which these ideals are found. In the EU, a rule of law is more solid in Scandinavia, Holland, and Britain than in the Latin countries or Greece, with Germany in between. In Latin America, probably only Chile qualifies as a country that clearly limits corruption effectively --- in 20th place worldwide in one widely used survey put out by Transparency International --- though Uruguay doesn't do badly. [What also distinguishes higher and lower quality democracies is the vigor of their civil society and the civic culture that is linked to it, something we'll see in a moment; plus the degree of corruption that exists.)

(5) A vigorous civil society exists, an insight that goes back to Tocqueville's great insights into American democracy published in the 1830s.

Essentially, a civil society means that there are lots of voluntary associations and strongly organized groups, all independent of the government and not dependent on it for their membership, organization, finance, and efficacy.

A free media comes right to mind. So do free trade unions and business associations of various kinds. So do strong cause groups, whether environmental or civil rights or women's rights or pro- or anti-abortion. So do free churches. So do grass-roots mass political parties that link the electorate, however large, to higher political office. So do the Boy and Girl Scouts or volunteer firemen or citizens who help local government or neighborhood associations.

For that matter, vigorous local and regional government helps offset the possibilities of a overweening tyrannical central government that abuses minorities while receiving re-election from a majority. (Even in France, the most centralized unitary state in the EU until recently, the central government decided in the late 1970s to organize limited regional assemblies . . . mainly to reduce the burdens on central government. Over time, even if weak compared to their German counterparts in a federal system, never mind those in Switzerland or the US, these regional assemblies have increased in stature and their scope of business, and will likely gather more authority at some point in the future, including the ability to raise their own revenue by direct taxation of their electorate.)

(6) A vigorous civic culture, a spin-off of a civil society, is widely defused among the citizenry and guides their public behavior.

In particular, the internalized social norms by which people actually govern their public and economic lives are more or less in line with formal legal and constitutional rules. First and foremost, that means that politicians in high office limit corruption because they think it's wrong. Similarly, if firms engage in fraudulent accounting practices, most people will be appalled if, sooner or later, such fraudulence is discovered. Nepotism is limited too. Tax evasion is limited, rather than a national sport as in most of Latin America or Africa or the Middle East. And generally, citizens respect their constitutional order, and politicians behave with a fair degree of civility toward one another.



I. Higher and Lower-Quality Countries That Are Solidly Democratic

So far, we've referred to only the first category --- probably about 35-40 countries in all, no more. Even a handful might be questionable. Let's say 40 countries. And even they, as our table notes, can be grouped loosely into high-quality and lower-quality democracies.

Probably half are solid and effective democracies with a firm rule of law, a vigorous and thriving civil society, and a widely defused sense of civic culture and respect for democratic rights that guides the behavior of all citizens, however humble or powerful. The others have had effective and free elections, made transfers of power to oppositions, and have made good progress in developing a rule of law; but they lag in either developing an energetic civil society and culture and a sense of citizen's equality and democratic behavior in all public spheres of life. A rule of law doesn't apply equally to the most powerful office-holders --- even in some European democracies, otherwise decades old: witness the three investigating magistrates into President Chirac's alleged long record of corruption, and their public complaints issued in the early spring of 2002 . . . right before the most recent Presidential election.

Consider the example another moment or two. The current French Fifth Republic, created in the midst of a threatened military coup by the French army during the colonial war in Algeria back in 1958, has been in existence for four and a half decades. Despite experiencing 15 different political systems since 1789, the year of the French Revolution --- four different systems since 1939 --- France is also a country with a long tradition of democratic ideals. Nonetheless, after years of investigation into Chirac's alleged and lengthy record of corrupt practices, the three leading magistrates resigned and then went public with their lost list of criticisms: their investigations, they said, had been stonewalled at almost every point; they couldn't get the files they needed, they were bogged down in bureaucratic red tape, and in the end, they said, they had to conclude that France is governed by two different laws: one for average citizens, the other for the most powerful in the country.


Corruption is probably a fairly good measure of their differences.

Judged this way, Britain and Ireland and the English-speaking democracies outside Europe are examples of higher-quality ones; so are Scandinavia, Holland, Austria, and Germany belong here, despite some minor doubts about the treatment of corrupt offenders in German politics recently --- including the former long-time Chancellor Helmut Kohl. The Latin countries and Greece, to stay with the EU, are examples of solid and effective institutions, but they rank higher in corruption and transparency of political behavior and media freedom. Uruguay, Chile, and Costa Rica in Latin America are examples of a higher-order solid democracy --- though Costa Rica is marred by fairly rampant corruption; Argentina, Brazil, and Panama are examples of a lower-quality sort, full of rife corrupt practices. As for Asia, India hovers between a high-quality and lower-quality system, even though one widely used international ranking --- put out by World Audit Democracy --- places it so low (63rd in the world in democratic practices) that it wouldn't qualify as a solid and effective democracy. Is that fair?

[Sidebar Clarification: On corruption of various kinds in the countries of the world, the most widely used survey is put annually by Transparency International: see the report for 2003 at Transparency International If you've ever followed their rankings, the US --- which used to come in right behind the United Kingdom as the least corrupt big country (30 million or more) --- has been demoted, and probably rightly so, what with the corporate scandals that emerged in the late 1990s.

Since then, as another well known international group that ranks countries in corrupt practices --- but delves more deeply into current political, financial, and economic changes --- finds that the US government at all levels has become more vigilant in dealing with the auditing frauds behind such scandals, including tougher monitoring by the SEC, as well as several criminal actions undertaken against corporate heads in various federal and state courts. In 2002, remember, Congress also passed new legislation that will severely limit the use of soft money for political campaigns. See Global Corruption Report 2004. Democracy Audit --- referred to a moment ago in connection with India --- is another well known source of ranking countries in terms of democratic practices, press freedom, and corruption: it places the US in the 14th spot for democratic development and 15th for corruption. Germany and Britain, the only other large countries, are ranked somewhat higher. Note that the countries ranked above Britain are all small in population, with the first 6 averaging less than six million each.]

All of which brings us to the second category of democracies:


II. Transitional Democracies

As we noted earlier, this is a gray zone full of scholarly controversy, and hence varying with how you define the minimal threshhold for moving into it --- say, a rejection of authoritarianism and competitive elections for high office, or more rigorous criteria about the fairness of the elections, or even more demanding a clear degree of an evolving rule of law and limits on corruption, plus growing citizen political participation --- the number of countries in this category can vary between about 50 to 100 countries. If the latter is accurate --- and it seems dubious --- that would be a little more than half the membership of the UN.

All of these countries have in common a recent authoritarian or totalitarian heritage. Mainly electoral democracies, they fall short --- often blatantly --- in terms of an effective rule of law and the development of a vigorous civil society and civic culture. Corruption can be pervasive; nepotism too. They vary considerably in their effectiveness in dealing with basic problems of political stability while remaining democratic, or dealing effectively with violent crime and corruption, or providing decent basic social services, never mind creating effective institutions and policies for launching their countries into sustained economic development. Some have done well here. This is true of both a handful of impressive Latin American and East Asian countries.

The latter, to illustrate the point, are the Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea, and Thailand. For decades, under authoritarian rule --- military or civilian --- they had fostered praiseworthy economic development. Then, in the 1980s or early 1990s, they began moving dramatically away from their rigid authoritarian politics and emerged as transitional democracies with increasingly competitive elections. More recently, they have all experienced a clear change in high office of political party leaders --- a legal opposition or coalition winning power --- at least once or twice in the last decade or so. Since 2000, too, they also cracked down to a surprising degree on corrupt practices among politicians . . . forcing out leaders guilty of them in Thailand and the Philippines. Even if they lag still in limiting corrupt practices that we characterize as crony capitalism, and even if a civil society and effective citizen participation also lag behind West Europe or the English-speaking democracies here, they have made noticeable progress on these scores. Remember too: they have all coped effectively the crisis-level challenges of the financial meltdown of 1997 and 1998.

Call them, then, solid and effective democracies but lacking the merits of high-quality democratic countries. There is reason to expect that others, say 15-20 now currently in the transitional category, will eventually join them. Lots of others in that transitional category, though, won't: their electoral democracies are marked largely either by ineffective pluralism among competing elites --- changing political leadership in elections doesn't lead to better or more effective government, in almost any area of substantive policies --- or by a dominant elite coalition in a ruling party.


The Middle East

In the Muslim Middle East, only Turkey fits into the clear category of a transitional democracy, and it has made enough progress in developing a more effective rule of law and ending its blatant abuses of civil and other human rights that it might now be placed --- well, if not in the category of a solid democratic country --- on the woozy borderline that distinguishes that category from the transitional.

Otherwise, in the Middle East, Israel remains a solidly institutionalized democracy.

Even in the midst of a widespread struggle against terrorism, its Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has come under the legal system for alleged corruption. Two years ago, in the midst of a battle with terrorists in Jemin on the West Bank, Israeli Arab parliamentarians petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to stop the removal of dead bodies by the Israeli forces in the city lest they be covering up a massacre. The Israeli Supreme Court accepted the petition and ordered the Israeli military command to desist. It did so. In the end, 55-57 Palestinians were found killed --- despite original claims by the Palestinian Authority of thousands and then hundreds (all duly repeated by the poll-parroting EU media with a handful of exceptions) --- while 26 Israeli soldiers were killed in the action. The notion that any Arab government anywhere could be ordered by a court to do anything it didn't want --- let alone require its military command to obey a court decision in the midst of a battle --- is so derisory that it would be regarded as demented science fiction if a story spreading such a rumor were to reach the rest of the world.