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Charles A. Luke

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Democracy in Iraq: Is It Possible?
by Charles A. Luke   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Posted: Wednesday, January 09, 2008

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Explores the possibility of creating a sustainable democracy in Iraq.

With all of the posturing regarding the installation of free elections and the opining by the Bush administration that such elections are indications of the further development of a democratic form of government in Iraq, little real progress towards a democracy in that country is evident. This is not surprising, since democracy in most free countries has taken centuries to develop. That the Bush administration, and any future U.S. administration, has an uphill battle in this arena, is an understatement. The current approach to the installation of democracy, coupled with an unrealistic timetable, ensures the failure of a truly democratic government to take root and grow in Iraq. There are several fundamental principles regarding a democracy that should be considered by the current administration.

First, democracies almost always begin from within, originating from a political evolution that dictates shared power. Early democracies, including the constitutional monarchy that developed from early feudal England, have all been fueled by power seizures of specific groups interested in protecting and controlling their various spheres of influence. As the interests of those societies became more diverse, it became apparent that a monarchy or dictatorship would no longer suffice to rule them. Regional expression cried out for a different form of governance.

This leads to a second principle of democracies—that they have long developmental histories. The democracy of the United States did not emerge as it is today within a few short years. Our democracy has taken centuries to develop, directly traceable to the democratic development of England. The development of a primarily two-party system, a bicameral legislature, a stronger form of federalism, and even the inclusion of all of our citizens in the democratic process did not formulate as it is today over a few years, but over a long period of time. It is fair to say that our democracy is still developing and may look very different within another century.

Next, democracies are cultural affairs. Democracies have typically come from the evolutionary thought development of the Western mind with its strong bent toward categorization, separation, and compartmentalization. Eastern thought historically tends to favor less separation in making sense of the world, preferring rather to see the world as a more blended place. To expect the culture of the Arab world in Iraq to embrace democratic principles and develop them at an accelerated pace is unrealistic.

So, what can the Bush administration do to foment the rise of democracy in the Middle East, and in particular in Iraq? Alon Ben-Meir in his article “Democracy of Convenience?” [1] recommends several steps.

First, Meir says the administration should pursue all changes gradually. Given their long history of authoritarian rule, during which Islam has been the dominant factor, Iraqis are more prone to favor the rights of the collective over the rights of the individual. Since democracies are based on individual rights, this concept will have to be given time and incentive to take root.

Second, provide economic incentives for the local communities of Iraq. Economic incentives must be ensured that affect the daily lives of Iraqi citizens through the development of hospitals, libraries, schools, and agricultural and business development.

Next, encourage the development of democratic institutions including a free press, free and liberal organizations, a fair court system, and a strong legal basis for human rights protection. These institutions have emerged in most democracies only after many years and tend to lead to the development of political parties representing the diverse opinions of the citizenship. In Iraq it will be important that these institutions develop separate from governmental control to ensure their integrity.

Fourth, reform the educational institutions of Iraq. In order to ensure sustainable democracy in the region, it will be necessary to educate the next generation of Iraqis in the tenets of a free and democratic system, the value of free opinion, and the love of personal civil liberties.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Ben-Meir advocates that the Bush administration must convince the Iraqi people that the U.S. actually has their best interests at heart. While “ winning the hearts and minds of a people ” is a phrase that invokes the ghosts of failure that embodied American involvement in Vietnam, that is exactly what the current U.S. government must do in order to ensure a movement toward true democracy in Iraq. The best way to do so is by giving them an interest and control in the development of their own country that allows gradual change, provides local economic incentives, allows the development of supportive institutions, and provides for continued sustainability through education. Ultimately, in order to take root, any democratic system must connect to and improve the human condition.


[1] Ben-Meir, Alon. Democracy of Convenience? November 7, 2005. Downloaded from


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