Imposing Democracy: Iraq and Russia

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Proxima
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Imposing Democracy: Iraq and Russia

#1 Post by Proxima » March 13th, 2007, 9:07 pm

Some political scientists believe that the reason the insurgency is so strong, and that the Iraqi people are [apparently] apathetic towards democratization is because we've yet to learn our lesson about "imposing democracy" on other countries, and that "shock therapy" clearly doesn't work.

Look at Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, western style democracy was introduced and set up immediately. Were Russians ready for this? Do Russians even want this? Russia, throughout it's history, has never had widespread freedoms in governing and choosing those to govern them. Because democracy was introduced immediately instead of gradually, Russia has not made the transition, which adds to problems like widespread inequality and the stagnant economy. Meanwhile, President Putin has drastically increased his power and is taking the country back to authoritarianism, while stating this his current "soft authoritarian" style is "in the best interests of Russia".

China, on the other hand, seems to be making the transition to a market economy (not to democratization), at least in the cities. By retaining its authoritarian government, but freeing up the market to foreign investors, China is reaping the benefits of free trade, while still keeping the Communist party strong.

Then there's Japan. Surprisingly, their democracy is relatively strong (despite their current constitution being drafted by the United States and the Japanese people on the whole to prefer consensus and group identity, versus American tendency for individualism and self-interest.), though unfortunately, the same can't be said for their economy. Political scientists usually agree that Japan's success story is attributed to Japan's adoptions of western style democracy, but retaining much of the Japanese ideas and values in governing.

My real question lies here. How exactly does one go about gradually implementing democracy? Clearly, immediately converting hard authoritarianism to liberal democratization is not working for both Iraq and Russia. In Iraq, should we have promoted "soft authoritarianism" and promoted a market economy, in hopes that the authoritarianism would soon turn to democracy? Or is the concept of gradually introducing democracy itself impossible, but rather a feel-good phrase for political scientists to make themselves feel better for trying to solve the world's problems?

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#2 Post by Theophilus » March 13th, 2007, 11:42 pm

It all kind of depends on the situation.

I think democracy would work better in Russia than in Iraq because Russia has been a part of the whole "Western Culture" thing. The Arab/Persian area on the other hand has had a different cultural background, and while I believe it can work, I don't think it would be as easy for them to accept.

Focusing on Russia now, some authoritarianism is good there. Historically speaking, whether it be France, Russia, or any other country, it takes a strong central government to see the overall picture, whereas petty regional rulers only see the interests of themselves and their immediate area. In Russian history, it has been a continual story of a central government having to battle, sometimes figuratively/sometimes literally with regional areas for control. Can having to much power in a central body/person be dangerous? Yes. But looking at Putin's track record, I think he has done a good job at trying to create a strong government for the whole of Russia, while at the same time not being tyrannical.

So will Russia ever be as democratic as say the US or the UK? I don't think so. Does it need to be? I don't think so.

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#3 Post by Danoz » December 9th, 2007, 12:01 am

First let me congratulate you for composing a thoughtful message with honest questions. If this were posted in “The Neutral Zone” at Trekbbs it would have been glazed over and ignored for being too complicated a topic.

Some political scientists believe that the reason the insurgency is so strong, and that the Iraqi people are [apparently] apathetic towards democratization is because we've yet to learn our lesson about "imposing democracy" on other countries, and that "shock therapy" clearly doesn't work.


First of all, what political scientists are you referring to specifically? The suggestion that the insurgency has anything to do with forced democracy is more of a media/talking-head creation than one out of academia—though I’m sure you could find a few who would make that claim. First, the term “democracy” itself is somewhat complicated. Certainly nobody chooses to live in a society where they are oppressed. Saddam Hussein seized power with the secular, Sunni minority Ba’ath party through force and oppression—but he maintained power by being popular among the people he ruled (by instituting schools, transit systems, globalizing health care etc). The northern Kurds and Shia majority weren’t as lucky. The Kurds, especially, by demanding autonomy and siding against Saddam in the first Gulf War were a destabilizing force and Saddam sought to quell them the only way he really knew how, through violence and oppression. By the time we invaded Iraq, the country was economically hurting after a costly war with Iran and a costly war with the West. At the end of the Gulf War, the Shia and Kurds from their respective sides began insurrections in an attempt to overthrow Saddam—but the West did not come to their aid, and they were left to slaughter by the returning Republican Army. Americans tend to have collective amnesia about history, whereas people in the Middle East remember centuries of history like it happened last week. When you put it in perspective, it’s not difficult to understand their indifference.

Terrorist attacks on Iraqi civilians aren’t as uniform as you may think, and not all terrorists are fighting for the same agenda. There’s a Sunni-insurgency of people who desire the return of their lost power. They are more scattered than the Kurd and the Shia and therefore would lose the most from any divisions of political power in the country. The Shia militias are fighting for continued control of the government and separation. The Kurds want an autonomous region. Within each of these groups are divisions among them, and they’re fighting each other also. Al Qaeda is a separate entity responsible for most of the attacks on US Troops, though they make up a minority of the violence in Iraq. If the US left, they would continue to fight each other. For a good breakdown of violence in Iraq, I recommend the Iraq Study Group Report (which is free to download online).

So, when you attempt to understand the violence in Iraq there’s a lot of variables to consider, and “democracy” being unpopular isn’t necessarily one of them. Rather, people who have been at political and religious odds for centuries no longer have the forceful and cohesive glue of Saddam Hussein to bind them together. There’s little national reconciliation in Iraq right now. People are more likely to consider themselves Sunni, Shia or Kurd, identities eclipsing any sense of Iraqi nationalism, which is an essential part of a thriving democracy.

Look at Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, western style democracy was introduced and set up immediately. Were Russians ready for this? Do Russians even want this? Russia, throughout it's history, has never had widespread freedoms in governing and choosing those to govern them. Because democracy was introduced immediately instead of gradually, Russia has not made the transition, which adds to problems like widespread inequality and the stagnant economy. Meanwhile, President Putin has drastically increased his power and is taking the country back to authoritarianism, while stating this his current "soft authoritarian" style is "in the best interests of Russia".


I believe you’re slightly mistaken about this. Gorbachev had been making broad sweeping social changes in Russia and began to allow free press and a flow of information in the country, making the idea of Western style democracy more popular sounding to its people. Also, Russian nationalism (in distinct contrast to Iraqi nationalism) was, and continues to be, very strong. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed, the people were ready for a change.

China, on the other hand, seems to be making the transition to a market economy (not to democratization), at least in the cities. By retaining its authoritarian government, but freeing up the market to foreign investors, China is reaping the benefits of free trade, while still keeping the Communist party strong.


Without appearing to be too slanted in a liberal or conservative direction, the United States had a lot to do with China becoming so integrated into the world economy. There was a vast issue network in the United States of varying opinions on how to approach China, and many groups thought it would be unethical to engage in formal relations or MFN (most favored nation) status with a nation known to suppress its people in almost every way thinkable. Out of the Clinton administration was the underlining belief that China was less dangerous as it was more integrated into the world economy, and despite these critiques he pursued formal relations. The idea is based on two major premises;

1. A nation who has strong economic ties is less dangerous, because taking military action means potentially severing those ties. A nation, however (like North Korea) that has “nothing to lose”, if you will, is far more likely to become a “rouge” state.

2. A nation with strong economic ties and a market economy is more likely to engage in humanitarian practices. Clinton believed that opening up their market would bring about social change in China.

In retrospect, yes—China is less dangerous… but China has not improved its human rights conditions to the degree that Clinton expected it would.

Then there's Japan. Surprisingly, their democracy is relatively strong (despite their current constitution being drafted by the United States and the Japanese people on the whole to prefer consensus and group identity, versus American tendency for individualism and self-interest.), though unfortunately, the same can't be said for their economy. Political scientists usually agree that Japan's success story is attributed to Japan's adoptions of western style democracy, but retaining much of the Japanese ideas and values in governing.


Great points. I recently authored a paper on the Japanese Democracy in three sections. I suggested that while the traditional notion of “group above self” served to continue to their high growth, it also played a huge rule in the stagnation of the Japanese economy. When the U.S. occupied Japan, the emperor had surrendered. He had dishonored himself and the people were devastated by a nuclear attack. He told the people that they would have the bear the unthinkable, a U.S. occupation. One of the first things the United States did was push an aggressive and necessary agrarian reform on its people. Think of this. People who were essentially little more than tenant farmers before the war now owned their own, individual acre of land to do with it as they pleased. Before the war, the land was controlled by a group of rich families known as the zaibatsu, working in coordination with each other and anti-market practices. MacArthur sought to break this down, and was successful at first.

Now Japan, a nation whose economy had been spending huge sums of money on military expenditures was free to use those resources for production while existing safely under the U.S. security umbrella. However, as hard as MacArthur tried to extinguish the zaibatsu, they would return in the form of the keiretsu—a league of large companies working in coordination with the Bank of Japan. The bank would lend massive loans against the collateral of land value (which skyrocketed unnaturally) until, eventually, the economy fell back on itself. Think of the Japanese economy as running on a treadmill that progressively gains speed… sooner or later you’re going to fly off.

Democracy in Japan was presented to the people as “the greater family”, and it was sold to the Japanese BY the Japanese. The emperor remained intact. MacArthur and the United States didn’t “invent” democracy in Japan. Remember that Japan itself had experimented with political parties, constitutions and elected officials well before the War during the Meiji Restoration and the Taisho “democracy”. The main political parties in Japan were based off of these. Japanese political experiences in democracy were often quelled because they were opposed by a more autonomous military whose loyalty was to the emperor… it didn’t mean that Japan was without the seeds for democratic thought.

My real question lies here. How exactly does one go about gradually implementing democracy?


I hope, if anything, this long response to your question shows that no single model for the implementation of democracy is appropriate. Scholars have attempted to “map” the different kinds of democracies around the world, but it is a complicated process with countless variables. Cultures are unique, and the evolution of various democracies is generally a checkered one. Even the United States democracy began where only wealthy, white men had a say in government, with the majority population existing in slavery an then a “second class”. For every major stride there was a conservative backlash. This is the nature of human progression.

Clearly, immediately converting hard authoritarianism to liberal democratization is not working for both Iraq and Russia. In Iraq, should we have promoted "soft authoritarianism" and promoted a market economy, in hopes that the authoritarianism would soon turn to democracy? Or is the concept of gradually introducing democracy itself impossible, but rather a feel-good phrase for political scientists to make themselves feel better for trying to solve the world's problems?


It’s hard to generalize about “political scientists” as if they speak with one voice. Having attended and participated in the 8th Symposium on Democracy, scholars from all over the world attended and presented their views on “democratic peace theory”, the idea that democracies are less likely to engage each other in war. Getting scholars to agree on the definition of “democracy” itself was quite the challenge, and each approached the question from a different angle or axiom about the nature of the human condition.

In the case of Iraq, I can assure you we shouldn’t have ripped apart what was keeping the country together in the first place without first conceiving of an adequate replacement. The administration was short-sighted and believed that our troops would be met with open arms. As for a solution in Iraq, that’s a entirely new thread.

Cheers,
Daniel

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#4 Post by Theophilus » December 10th, 2007, 3:21 am

Danoz wrote:>SNIP<
scholars from all over the world attended and presented their views on “democratic peace theory”, the idea that democracies are less likely to engage each other in war.


I find it kind of funny that there is growing research on "dictatorial peace theory" if you will. Seems that dictatorial countries are just as unlikely to wage war as democratic countries.

Seems that countries that score a -5 to 5 on the Polity Project data set are the ones most likely to wage wars.

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#5 Post by desert rose » December 20th, 2007, 2:31 pm

As I've said time and time again, you can't impose democracy. You can plant the idea, but the actual culture and individual system has to grow from the people, not from a law book.
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And waking with day.

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