Winning the Peace . . . with Democracy?

Article excerpt


The Bush administration is romanticizing about democracy in post-Saddam Iraq. It is contemplated that both exile and indigenous Iraqis will be entrusted with government power days after Saddam's defeat. It is expected these unelected officeholders will usher in the trappings of democracy and a democratic culture in a land that has witnessed neither in more than 4,000 years.

The Bush plan is sheer folly. It will turn our sparkling victory in war to ashes in peace. At present, Iraqis are not fit to govern themselves.

Contemporary Americans take democracy for granted because it has been a national fixture for more than 200 years. We wrongly assume that with an enlightened Constitution and good intentions democracy will spontaneously blossom in any corner of the world like flowers that bloom in the spring. That assumption, however, betrays a sophomoric understanding of the taproots of democracy.

The American Revolution of 1776 marked no sharp discontinuity from our Colonial past. A democratic culture had earlier taken root with elected local assemblies like the House of Burgesses, the British common law, and general education. Public opposition to oppressive Colonial rule, such as Writs of Assistance and the Stamp Act, were chronic. The Boston Tea Party protested a tea tax. Leaders were highly literate, and were imbued with works of political philosophy that celebrated representative government, a separation of powers, individual rights, and religious freedom. John Locke's "Second Treatise of Civil Government" and Montesquieu's "Spirit of the Laws" were illustrative. William Blackstone's "Commentaries" were legal gospel.

American Colonial society was more horizontal or equal than vertical or stratified. No class enjoyed special legal privileges, and the Constitution banned titles of nobility.

In addition, America was uniquely blessed with a pantheon of selfless political statesman who cared deeply about making democracy succeed not only for the living but for those yet to be born. Exemplary were George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, John Marshall, Sam Adams, John Adams, James Otis and James Wilson.

Despite these auspicious circumstances, the making of our Constitution in 1787 has been styled Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen. Yet it also contained grievous flaws, such as an endorsement of slavery and the exclusion of ladies from political life, which took a civil war and more than a century of protest to repair.

Compare contemporary Iraq with 1776 America. Democracy has been denied even a cameo appearance. Kings and military dictators have oppressed the Iraqi people since the nation was artificially constructed from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire approximately 80 years ago. …