Monday, November 27, 2006

Democracy, What Good Is It?

Does Democracy Bring Peace?

Is Democracy the best form of government? Will it work in the Middle East? Are democratic nations more peaceful than non-democratic nations?

One of my commenters, Tyk, a bright, peace-loving, open-minded Muslim from Lebanon, has made the valid point that democracy does not always bring the U.S. what it wants, which is a peace-loving member of the world community. He points to the sham democracy in Egypt, the election of Hamas in Palestine, and a poll in Jordan that says most Jordanians are against peace with Israel.

All these are valid points.

Flawed Democracies versus Dictatorships

Both Aristotle and Plato discussed the virtues and defects of democracies. I won’t presume to conduct a worthy examination of the issue, but I will posit my view, and I’d be interested in hearing yours.

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I think that in the short run, Bush’s theory that democracy will solve the world’s problems is probably naïve, and wrong. As Tyk has pointed out, democracies can be corrupted into false democracies, which are nothing more than phony elections to keep a dictator in power. This dictator might be benevolent, or not. Witness Egypt, Palestine, or even Venezuela. Egypt seems to be the more benevolent kind of dictator-democracy, but Palestine is a country that elected a terrorist organization to lead it. So, even if the democracy is legitimate, the people might choose war over peace, intrigue over cooperation.

The Long-Run Effect of Democracy

In the long run, though, I believe that countries that choose legitimate democracy as a form of government really do become more peace-loving, responsible members of the world community. Is this naïve? Maybe.

I will use the United States to make my point. This might be a poor example for many of my readers, since some of you envision the U.S. as warlike and undemocratic. I can see where you get the idea of warlike, but undemocratic we’re not.

I’m not going to prove that we are not warlike. Those of you who see us as warmongers will never buy my arguments anyway. I will say, though, that the U.S. has always had what it thought was a good reason for entering any war. Even Vietnam, Korea, and Iraq. In Vietnam we were legitimately concerned about the worldwide spread of communism—a reaction to the Soviet Union expansionism into Eastern Europe, and Communist China’s expansion into the Far East. Korea was a direct response to this, as communist North Korea was trying to take over South Korea. The Iraq War began in stages, first with the U.S. responding to the unlawful invasion of Kuwait, and then to Saddam Hussein’s desire for WMDs and his ignoring U.N. weapons inspectors, plus shooting at American planes. After 9/11, the United States was extremely sensitive to any terrorist or anti-American efforts, backed up by the possible development of WMDs.

The American people, in our democracy, were willing to support the war in Afghanistan, because it had a direct link with 9/11. It was even willing to support the war in Iraq, though Bush did a poorer job of making the link between 9/11, terrorism and Iraq. Support for the war has decreased, however, because the public perceives it as not going well. This, I argue, is the limit that a democracy can put on its nation’s war making. As a result, the Republicans were voted out of power, and the U.S. is scrambling for ways to fight the war more efficiently or get out. A dictatorship might just continue fighting a failing war, and even without fighting it more efficiently.

Democracy in Iraq

Bush’s stated goal in Iraq is to return the country to its people, with some form of democratic government.

We find legitimate democracy having trouble taking root there. So, is democracy right for Iraq? Plus, even if we get democracy there, will this mean that Iraq will be a better country—a more responsible member of the world community?

Bush’s theory is that all people deep down inside yearn for democracy. Is he correct? I believe he is, in the long run. I think such things as worldwide communication and even the Internet with its blogging will break down barriers and reveal to all peoples of the world how much better it is to be free. I can’t imagine living in a country where I am not free to go where I want, dress as I want, and speak what I want.

Still, even if Iraq forms a democracy, they might choose to ally with Iran, for example, which would not make the U.S. happy. They might choose to ally with Hamas, Hezbollah, a new totalitarian Russia, and so on. So, what good is a democracy?

Democracy and a Better World?

All this is true. Yet, the hope remains that people, out of self-interest, will eventually choose solutions that bring peace and prosperity. When they are tired of their children dying and living with hate, and when they see that peace brings greater rewards than war, democracy might then truly lead to a better world. Dictatorships can do this too, but are more susceptible to the corruption of a single man or party with absolute power.

The Iraqi Question: to Democratize or Not?

Are the Iraqi people ready for democracy now? No, the Iraqis don’t appear ready for democracy yet.

Can they get ready, fast? I hope so, but it looks doubtful.

What are the solutions?

1. Stick it out and help Iraq get ready for democracy.

2. Look for a strongman to lead a quasi-democracy, like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

3. Or, let them fight it out themselves. The logic here is that we have no business in the middle of a civil war.


(*Wikipedia is always my source unless indicated.)

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