April 04, 2003

Building Democracy in Iraq

The Winds of War today has a report that the CIA and top State Department officials are profferring a nationalist named Adnan Pachachi to head the interim Iraqi government that will be installed after the war ends. The article paints him in rather ugly terms in comparison to Ahmad Chalabi, who is head of the Iraqi National Congress.

I know nothing about Mr. Pachachi, and only a little more about Mr. Chalabi. I don't think that Mr. Chalabi is the person to head up the interim Iraqi government, based on what I do know. That is beside the point, though. All of the maneuvering going on now is not about Iraq; it is about domestic political empires and vendettas. Right now, all of the organizations, and the different factions within those organizations, of the executive branch are trying to get primacy over who will be the ones to pick the new Iraqi government.

This is a mistake, and the Congress will compound it if they turn over control to the Department of State. Despite the claims made in the article, reconstruction and nation building is not "traditionally diplomatic territory." Generally, in our history, we have placed military governorships (led by governors general, who are serving military officers) in charge of this process. The reason for this is twofold. First, there is a huge security problem that has to be addressed, and the military is far better able to do this, even in non-military ways, than the diplomats, because to a diplomat everything is negotiable. Second, democracy doesn't work when it drops into your lap.

The second point is key: there are a large number of preconditions to true liberal democratic rule, which is why it doesn't happen much. There need to be institutions which give individuals power over their own lives. These include banks, for financial power (ability to borrow, pool resources, etc); a trusted police force and court system, for individual safety without resorting to individual use of force; and orderly and well-understood laws which provide safety (life), freedom of expression and action (liberty), and protection for private property (which is a cornerstone of the pursuit of happiness).

The only process which has been successful is to first build these institutions; then build elected legislatures at various levels, starting from the bottom up; then finally move the power of the state executive to an elected position. In every case I've ever come across where that path was followed, it has led to eventual liberal democracy in some form, while in every case of democracies which have failed, a different method has been attempted. Generally, you can overlap these steps quite a bit. In particular, giving local control to local officials can be done quite quickly. But even here, you have to have a strong power above the local level which can step in, so as to prevent the gangsterism seen in Russia, and the corruption seen almost everywhere outside of North America, Europe, Japan and Australia/New Zealand.

I fear that our Congress is going to put this in the hands of the State Department, which will then fritter away this vital opportunity. It should be remembered that if we fail to build at least a Turkish-style democracy, if not better, then our effort will be a failure overall. We must provide a positive example for other state sponsors of terrorism which rule despotically over their people. To do that, we have to be able to focus on what is important: building a stable democracy which won't collapse or turn into a meaningless non-entity (or worse, become a tyranny with the trappings of democracy). The State Department, by its very nature as conciliators, is unprepared to do this. Instead, the State Department's history is one of giving in to the demands of every nation and every faction which we want to make happy, regardless of the long-term impact. Stability is our goal here, but not the stability of the tyrant.

At least it appears that we aren't turning reconstruction over to the UN, which would be many orders of magnitude worse.

UPDATE (4/7): For an example of UN redestruction in Kosovo, look here. (Hat tip: Winds of Change)

Posted by Jeff at April 4, 2003 01:47 PM | Link Cosmos
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