April 11, 2003


Porphyrogenitus writes about rebuilding Iraq and how soon we should be holding elections. He is unconvinced by Aleksander Dardeli's argument in the Financial Times that we should first build institutions of law and order, then move towards elections. I also wrote about this earlier.

Here is the crux of Dardeli's argument:

Iraq represents an opportunity for a better approach. The initial emphasis should be on humanitarian assistance, economic reconstruction and building the rule of law. No matter how much the enthusiasts cringe at the idea, the US should delay elections until conditions improve and there is a better chance of a government operating fairly and effectively. Justifying early elections by saying that the Iraqis are a proud people, or that Iraq is not Kosovo, is silly. Iraq's institutions have been steadily battered by Saddam Hussein's regime into a state of dysfunction that will take time to mend.

I feel that we would do well to listen to Dardeli. While the immediate judgement of the international community would be that immediate elections (and pretty much only that) would produce a legitimate government, they also felt that way about Kosovo. Further, international opinion was that Saddam's government should not be removed. I'm more interested in three other judgements: the judgement of the Iraqi people, the judgement of the American people and the judgement of history.

There will doubtless be some in Iraq who will want immediate elections. Let me make a quick prediction: these will mostly be people who want to use quick elections to gain power that they would not have otherwise over institutions that will enrich them over the longer term. This has been the pattern in most places where democracy sprouted too rapidly (see Russia for instance). Legitimacy arises from the consent of the governed, but elections alone do not signify the consent of the governed. Note that Iraq and Cuba both had elections in the past year. They were meaningless because the institutions of freedom which make elections meaningful do not currently exist in either Cuba or Iraq.

For the American people, what is going to matter is not what we do now, but whether the Iraqi people are free in four or five years, or at least well on their way. If we betray the Iraqis into despotism - or even an elected shambles - the Republicans will be out on their ears for allowing it to happen, and rightly so. This issue will be minor in the run-up to the next election, unless we really fail miserably and quickly, but will be very important in the next two elections after that. We must keep our word to the Iraqi people to create a free self-governing society, and we will not be able to do that if they have self-government with no free society to govern.

The judgement of history will not rest on where Iraq is in six months, but in six decades. Note that the successes in Japan and Germany were not truly apparent until the 1960s at the earliest, and really it was only in the late 1980s that Germany showed how far it had come by reabsorbing the East without collapsing. The right-wing nationalists were there, waiting, but their opportunity never came. Look, for further example, at South Korea and Taiwan, both of which were not truly free until the 1980s, though they had elections for quite some time before that.

I believe that we will be seeing regional and local elections within a few months, for positions of limited authority over a limited region. But it will be a year at least before the basic institutions of law and order, protection of property, a free economy and a free press have really begun to be effective. It will be longer still - perhaps three or four years - before these institutions will have really taken hold in a way that makes them hard to reverse. Somewhere between that one year and those three or four years would be the right time to begin having national elections for a representative body, and once that body has taken hold, they can arrange for the election of an executive. This amount of time also gives time for what Iraq really needs: a consitutional convention to decide, based on the experiences of themselves and others whom they wish to emulate, how they want to govern themselves.

Posted by Jeff at April 11, 2003 10:06 AM | Link Cosmos

I just want to clarify one thing that might have been unclear in my post: I don't mean to say we shouldn't restore law and order (as alluded to in earlier posts, I'm. . .unsettled. . .by the lacdalasical attitude taken towards looting).

Also, I mention in my post that my concern is with the judgement of the Iraqi people as well (not that phantasmagorica, the "international community" of carpers who complain about anything and everything. Their judgement has already proven flawed at best).

My worry is - as alluded to, also, in the Ramifications II post - that we'll put off elections, which the State Department apparently wants to do - build all these other things, and then such "flaky" ideas like transforming the political environment in Iraq from despotism to representative democracy just won't ever happen.

I think both Bush and Blair have the correct attitude on things (they do want a democratic transformation), delay is - well, remember the usual suspects kept saying that if they just gave more time to inspectors, more time for diplomacy, &tc, that would be better. This is not the same situation, but the same sort of attempt to achieve a triumph of process over results could occur here.

IMO, delay of elections is more likely to produce what we both don't want to see happen: a new regime, not democratic, but yes, with a bureaucratic structure to maintain order, just sort of coasting along, and elections to take place "soon, once everything is in place".

I also think that prolongued delay of elections, rather than convincing the people of Iraq that we really mean it when we say we want a government that represents them, will sew the seeds of doubt.

This also puts the rather important questions of just what sort of institutions the Iraqi people want in the wrong hands, IMO. We build the institutions of civil society and rule of law for them, set up a constitutional structure for them, and they are to adopt it? Or should they have input?

I don't think that Jeff and I really disagree too much - you'll note that in my post I did not recommend immediate transfer of all governmental authority to a Iraqi parliament elected in the immediate future.

I recommended a gradual process, but one that will and IMO should start as soon as feasable. One where Iraqi representatives are the ones making decisions - sure, with advice and help - on what form their institutions will take. What will be the Federal structure? Where will the "state"/district boundaries be? Will Iraq's government resemble that of Britain, the U.S., Japan, some other system, or a combination with some aspects unique to it? What will the Departments/Ministries be, who will people them, who will they report to?

All these things will have to be decided - these are the very institutions Dardeli recommends be built before elections. I want to make sure that the Iraqis are as involved as realistically possible in making those decisions, rather than having us make the decisions and build the institutions of self-government for them (which, IMO, is closer to the "colonial" model).

Americans had to build our own government. We didn't have the French, who helped us in our Revolution, build them for us. And thanks be to God for that!

Posted by: Porphyrogenitus on April 11, 2003 11:45 AM

I don't think we disagree all that much, and I certainly hope I didn't come across as taking you to task. I think that the difference between us is one of emphasis and timing: to what extent are the Iraqis involved at what level and when. Given your clarification in the comment above, that this should be a gradual process, starting ASAP, with US input but Iraqi responsibility and control, I suspect we are even closer in our views on this than you suggested.

Posted by: Jeff on April 11, 2003 12:31 PM

The good news is that a lot of that civil society exists in the exile community. There are a lot of Iraqis out there who are truly patriotic and care about their country. I have a feeling they will be taking more and more of the lead. One thing I keep harping on is: don't underestimate the Iraqi people. They all seem to want a free, peaceful country.

In any case, one thing that Iraq really needs before any election is a census. The last one was decades ago. And along with that, a national ID card.

Posted by: Andrew Hagen on April 13, 2003 01:51 PM
Post a comment