Monday, April 21, 2003

Fareed Zakaria, in a Salon article, has some interesting ideas about democracy. He says that we've become too attached to the erroneous idea that if you hand someone an election ballot, they suddenly become a democracy, overflowing with the bounty of goodness and equality for all. Open elections in many former Soviet republics have resulted in the popular election of anti-reformist autocrats. Zakaria argues that this happens when power is handed out before democratic institutions (rule of law, protected freedoms in speech/media/religion, competent political parties) are in place. In such instances, premature elections may be harmful to a democracy, as counter-intuitive as that might seem.

I think he makes a good point here, and it applies well to the Iraq situation. Let's not hold elections before we've decided what the structure of the government will be and what the political process will look like. If competing power interests don't know whether they'll be "the ruler or the ruled", Zakaria points out, they have a stake in making sure that the party in power will be accountable and held in check. This raises the specter of a long U.S. involvement in the region, but some Iraqi thinkers seem to believe that the local population might be more amenable to the U.S. presence if it seems to be actively improving lives. (building up infrastructure, providing jobs, etc.) Furthermore, Zakaria notes that the U.S. presence will be far more legitimate if internationalized. Look at Bosnia, he says. The U.N. has essentially been running it for the last 6 years, but "nobody is calling that colonialism. They call it international assistance." Of course, nobody's paying much attention to it in general, which isn't ever the case in the Middle East.


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