[Previous] [Main Index] [Next]

Monday, April 19, 2004

Reply to a Visitor on the Prospects of Iraq for Democratic Government

 Even as the 5th and last article on the democratic prospects of the Arab Middle East --- specifically, starting with post-Saddamite Iraq --- is close to being in the pipeline, a visitor left us a set of comments that deserve to be replied to. They deal less with Iraq than with the Arab peoples as a whole. When you've finished reading the comments and the buggy reply, you should be able to grasp better a couple of key points in this mini-series on the Middle East's democratic prospects:

1) What the differences are between a solid, effective liberal democracy on one side and, on the other, transitional democracies of a post-authoritarian character, marked mainly by free elections but deficient in many of the key characteristics that underpin liberal democratic practices . . . political, legal, and social.

2) What seems more realistic, and still very significant should it materialize, about Iraq's prospects for emerging as the first clearly electoral democracy with some clear prospects for further democratic development . . . and all that this would likely mean by way of spillovers, deliberate or otherwise, for the 280 million Arabs still living in 21 dictatorial regimes, never mind 70 million Iranians just next door to Iraq.

Don't forget: those spillovers if they occur are part and parcel of the war on terrorism.

That war isn't just military or matters of intelligence and legal punishment, nor of improved homeland security. It is also a clash of ideas and ideals. In particular, some way has to be found to dampen the enthusiasm that now exists on the grass roots level throughout the Arab world for radical Islamist movements and terrorist heroes, seen as champions of Islam under assault.

On this score, democratic development would be the best cure. As the survey evidence cited in the second and fourth articles in this mini-series showed, there's a clear correlation between democratic government and the population's condemning, say, bin Ladenism as murderous and criminally evil. Secular and democratic Turkey, for instance, is almost as negative about bin Ladenism and Al Qaeda as the European democracies. Among the Arab countries cited, Morocco does better in this connection than Jordan, and they both do better than Saudi Arabia . . . at any rate, in the survey carried out after 9/11 by the Saudi secret police, which showed that 95% of Saudi men in their twenties and thirties admired bin Laden and his terrorist massacres. Not surprisingly, as we'll see in the next article, Morocco scores better than Jordan in their democratic prospects. Saudi Arabia's ranking, by contrast, is near the bottom of the barrel.

Prof Bug:

I'm not as optimistic as you about the prospects of "yanking 21 Arab dictatorships into the 21st century". True, the Allies imposed a democratic government on Nazi Germany after World War II. However, the Nazi Party and its ideology was only around for roughly 20 years (counting the interwar period), while Islam and the fundamentalist versions have been around a lot longer.

Another difference is that the Germans were much more receptive to American occupation than any Arab country, because the German choice was to be occupied by the West or the Russians. The Germans generally preferred to be in the Western zone; hence the construction of the Berlin Wall. By contrast, there is no such situation for the Arabs: they're already convinced that the U.S. is inherently evil, and they certainly don't look to the U.S. to save them from anything. Can these people really be turned into liberal democrats? I'm not so sure, and I'd hate to think that the lives of Allied troops are being wasted on what may well be a futile effort.

--- Michael


Thank you for the comments. I'll try to deal with some of them here in this article, with most of the key points by way of reply --- and other ramifying analysis --- needing to await the next article in the series. It should be published soon. Right now, there's still some literature I'm wading through.

Liberal Democracy vs. Transitional Democracy

Keep in mind one thing: your reference at the end to "liberal democrats" is misleading. Nobody has claimed that will happen in Iraq . . . not soon, maybe not for a long time; maybe even --- I hope not --- forever. For the time being, we've been talking about something more modest: the prospect that Iraq can move into the transitional democratic category. That means, at a minimum, free, competitive elections (if need be, with international monitoring); political parties free to organize and select candidates for office; a consensual government grounded in the electoral process; and the beginnings of a rule of law.

Such a start would entail some transparency and accountability of the executive and bureaucracies, a progressively independent judiciary, and increasingly law-abiding police, security, and military forces that are accountable to the constitution . . . not to the politicians or leaders in control.


By Contrast, an Effective Liberal Democracy Requires:

1. A vigorous rule of law has to exist --- with everyone, even presidents and parliamentarians and generals and judges and rich people, treated fairly and equitably in the same manner. Simultaneously, the civil liberties of all citizens have to be effectively protected, above all by a well-anchored system of due process and transparency based on impartial law. And --- one measure of all this --- corruption and nepotism in public life have to be energetically curbed and effectively punished.

2. Governmental laws and regulations have to be generally consented to voluntarily, as legitimate and morally obligating, by the vast majority of the citizenry --- rather than obeyed out of self-interest or fear of being punished by the courts and police for evasions. One clear measure here: spontaneous compliance with the laws and policies even by those who opposed their passage through democratic means.

3. The government needs to be able to ensure that it can tax effectively in a constitutionally designated way, with the ability to raise revenue for its basic services and other policies that are decided upon by proper legal and constitutional processes. Some sense of equity needs to exist here. Massive tax evasion is a sign that the citizenry doesn't feel a moral obligation to be law-abiding.

4. A liberal democracy also requires a vigorous civil society: a free media, free trade unions, independent self-regulating professions like law and medicine, a politically independent system of higher education, cause groups galore, free churches, business and financial associations, interest groups, solidly rooted political parties at the grass roots level, and the like.

5. The higher-quality liberal democracies --- Northern Europe and the English-speaking democracies, say --- are marked by a wide radius of trust among the citizenry, which allows a great deal of spontaneous cooperation for common ends. When, by contrast, mistrust and cynicism flourish among wide swathes of the population, they are clear signs of a narrow or fragmented radius of trust. In lower-quality democracies --- or transitional ones, never mind authoritarian countries --- serious cleavages in their socieites may divide the population along the lines of ethnic or tribal gaps, family clans, social classes, and possibly regions. Worse, frequently, mutual suspicions and fears may congeal along such cleavages and create not just strong mistrust but outright hostility among the groups in any country.

In such social circumstances, little spontaneous compliance with formal laws and regulations will exist. Corruption and tax evasion will likely be rife well. Then, too, the prospects of eruptive violence --- whether low key like limited terrorism, at other times more brutal terrorism, or flare-ups of ethnic or class-based warfare --- may hover nearby. If democratic elections do exist, they may help contain the violence --- no small matter --- and at times lead eventually to reforms that encourage stronger constitutional development and a more intensely shared national identity that offset group suspicions and mistrust. Even so, to put it mildly, the obstacles blocking success here are legion.


Demanding Standards

Right now, only about 35 countries in the world perform well by these solid liberal-democratic standards . . . though recently a few outside West Europe and the English-speaking world have either joined this category or are close to it --- Chile, Uruguay, and Costa Rica in Latin America qualifying, maybe also Brazil and Argentina now as low-quality democracies; or Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines near to qualifying as well, if not in that category, along with Japan and India; and a handful clearly in East Europe too. Probably about 55-75 countries could be regarded as in various development as electoral democracies, with constitutional development, a clear rule of law, and a vigorous civil society --- including transparency and accountability in high office and effective legal punishment of corruption and nepotism --- lagging in all of them.

Some countries, of course, do better than others on these liberal-democratic scores. No one democratic country is perfect. Where most of Latin America democracies go astray --- those too in most of Asia and East Europe --- is on the scores of massive tax evasion, plus failures to deal effectively with blatant corruption and nepotism. In the EU, for that matter, even Latin Europe and Greece perform generally poorly here compared to Northern Europe or the English-speaking democracies. Many countries in the transitional democratic category may never evolve into liberal democracies; others may slide back into authoritarian rule.

As a twist, yet other countries have free elections and political parties and a fair degree of protection for a free media --- as in much of Central and Latin America --- but are governed either by a dominant coalition out to protect its economic interests, prestige, and political clout (the case, say, of the Philippines for the last two decades despite some impressive developments in a rule of law) or, oppositely, by shifting and ineffectual elites who alternate in power after an election, but then don't carry out the institutional, legal, and regulatory reforms that needed, say, for effective constitutional development . . . never mind for dealing with social problems of unemployment, poor social services, or poverty.


How To Estimate Liberal Democratic Standards

Remember here: corruption and tax evasion --- both heavily influencing the size of the underground economy in a country --- are good measures of ineffective legal rule and of contempt for the law . . . the latter a matter of internalized social norms. All three --- corruption, tax evasion, and the underground economy --- can be estimated across countries and are by various institutes; as a general thing, they help us distinguish high-quality liberal democracies from low-quality ones, never mind the large grab-bag set of countries that practice electoral democracy. The underground economy of various countries, for instance, has been measured in a variety of cross-checking ways by an imaginative Austrian team of economists. It consists of criminal activities and --- as the only crime --- tax evasion itself.

For what it's worth, the US is ranked lowest by that Austrian team: its underground economy around 7-8% of GDP. In Northern Europe and Britain, surprisingly, it's around 15% on an average; in Southern Europe, around 20% or slightly more. In Mexico and Brazil, startlingly, the underground economy seems to be more than 50% of official GDP!

Sound unpromising? Well, then, note


That Some of . . .

The 55-75 electoral democracies solid constitutional, legal, and institutional prospects of further progress: everywhere, to be more precise --- even in parts of poverty-ridden tropical Africa ---but not so far anywhere in the Arab world; not yet anyway. And note immediately another thing of significance: even ineffectual or corrupt democratic countries with a dubious rule of law aren't ruled in the arbitrary and often vicious ways that marked Tropical Africa everywhere in the 1970s through the 1980s and into the present decade, or under military or authoritarian manner in Asia, or in the Communist-imposed states of East Europe, or in military-ruled Latin America in the 1970s and early 1980s. If you have any doubts, look at Central America today. For all the corruption, nepotism, and ineffective economic development save in Costa Rica --- long an admirable democratic country --- former Marxist guerrillas sit in legislatures all over the region next to former right-wing general and militia-men responsible for killing one another in droves during the 1980s, never mind tens of thousands of peasants and Indians caught in between their brutal warfare . . . and nobody, not one of them, wants to reopen and start anew the violence and murder that marked them during that blood-soaked decade.

Our hope is to see if Iraq can move into this post-authoritarian, democratizing category; nothing more, but also nothing less . . . with all the implications that follow from the inevitable spilovers, deliberately intended or not, onto the rest of the Arab countries and Iran. All of which brings us to:


The Pivotal Questions for the Next Article:

Can Iraq hold together, enjoy growing internal security, and have relatively free elections next winter resulting in a consensual, relatively effective government with a free media and the start of a rule of law, even if in a fairly rudimentary manner at first? Nobody really knows. There has been a noticeable amount of progress in many categories that are encouraging here, and the outcome hinges on the ability of the Coalition and its Iraqi allies to maintain security in the country. That means dealing effectively with the current insurrectionist wave and terrorism. By this summer, a UN-designated Iraqi transitional government with limited sovereignty will be in place. It will be its obligation, with the help of the Coalition and the UN, to then hold elections for a legitimate government next January, including the final reforms for Iraq's new constitution.

Replies: 1 Comment

Prelude to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan of Afghanistan attempts to collect information related to the reasons and dynamics that led to the nearly decade-long presence of a hundred thousand Soviet troops in Afghanistan.

Posted by Prelude to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan @ 04/20/2004 10:34 AM PST