Democracy in Iraq


Expat Yank reports on a BBC interview of American University professor Allan Lichtman this morning. The BBC interviewer, Dermot Murnaghan, seems to think that if Iraqi elections produce a government that is oppressive or threatening and we oppose them, we will be hypocrites. Apparently, “majority rules” is the only rule that matters.

Expat Yank points out that Germans were free to elect whoever they wanted after the end of the Second World War, even though free elections had produced that one short guy with the funny mustache. How did the Allies deal with the threat of a repeat performance by the Germans, who didn’t really have a good track record with the neighbors?

After the war, the Nazis were banned. (West) Germans reformed and reorganized their parties of the left, and on the center-right new parties arose. And if the (West) Germans ever considered for a moment re-empowering a version of another Nazi party, does Murnaghan and the BBC really believe for an instant that the Allies — the British, Americans and French — would have permitted it? Or should have permitted it?

The same is probably going to be true for Iraq. With the smashing of the dictator, the goal is now to being to help regularize Iraq’s politics over the years to come.

Of course, Iraqis will be free to vote and organize political parties. And their new government will have real power.

But will they be free to elect a government espousing the same views, and dedicated to the same causes and planning similar actions as the ousted Hussein regime? Yes, Iraqis will probably have to be permitted to elect to posts former, low-level regime members, as Germans were permitted to empower former low-level Nazis, and former Nazi soldiers whom the Allies had considered non-threatening. But “hard core” Nazis were prevented from ever re-entering political life. The same is likely to be the case in Iraq.

We must remember that we are not freeing Iraq and helping them convert to a democracy for the sake of it. We are doing it because it is in our interest that Iraq (and the Middle East in general) become a stable place where the people have more to look forward to in life than suicide attacks against civilians or US Marines. If it was in our best interest to rule Iraq with an iron fist, we would do so. If it was in our best interest to turn Iraq into a sea of glass, we would do so. If it would have been in our best interest to leave Saddam in power, we would have done so.

Democracy can be a wonderful thing. As long as the Iraqis play nice, they’re invited to the party. If they get out of line, we will not stand by and let them revert to their former state. Remember, Saddam enjoyed overwhelming victories at the polls. To suggest that we honor such elections, or any elections which threaten us or the world at large, is not rational.


  1. The Ba’ath (sp?) party coming back into power is not what we should be worried about. It’s the Shi’ites (again, sp?) getting an oppressive theocracy in place that should worry us. However, you think if we don’t like what comes out of the elections, we should go in and do it over again? Can’t say that I agree. We can put things in a constitution to make it difficult for things to go bad, but I’m not sure we can get away with doing much more.

  2. I’d think we have to honor any government fairly elected by a democratic process. Otherwise, Iraq is a puppet country and not a sovereign democracy. We’ve already announced we’ll pull out our troops in the new government requests us to. I’d like to see us carve out enough real estate for a fort with a runway, and keep a standing emergency force there (similar to what we have next to Cuba). From this fort, which we could keep supplied by air (using an air route we define as our right to us), we could react to any coup by forces attempting to overthrow a democratic government, and to attack terrorist camps. Hopefully, the new government will approve of this fort, but in my opinion we should simply say this is the way it will be even if it doesn’t. The UN and much of the world will not approve, but we’ve invested too much (including 800 deaths already) to see Iraq go back to a two-bit dictatorship or a haven for terrorist groups in a few years.

  3. PS to previous post: If the Pentagon determines we can maintain adequate troops in Kuwait, Qatar, or elsewhere; then perhaps we don’t need a fort in Iraq. But, I’m not so comfortable those countries will not ask us to leave at some point. We have an opportunity now to simply establish a place on the ground in the Middle East for the new sheriff in town. And, a fort near the Iraq/Syrian border would avoid the long supply line problems we saw during the 2003 invasion. We could have lost a lot more troops during that phase.

  4. ACE – I have been thinking long and hard about what the US military in Iraq is going to (or should) look like a year from now, and I think we need to go the ‘fort’ route you mention. This issue of Iraq’s elected government was a big part of my thinking, which is why Expat Yank’s post stuck out at me. I’ve been planning on writing up my theory this weekend, but now you’ve taken all the wind out of my sails…

  5. KTLA – I agree that the most likely trouble will come from the Shiites, since they’ve got the population base to overwhelm things. I think our response to Darth Sadr is indicative of our feelings about such a development, even though I admit we wouldn’t just send in the tanks once an Iraqi government is running the country. Similar figures, however, might meet with unfortunate ‘accidents’ or with ‘internal opposition’, like those allegedly Iraqi snipers who have been picking off Sadr’s guys for going on a month now. At the end of the day, despite the obvious benefits to the Iraqi people and the region in general, we are putting up a democracy in Iraq for our own purposes. If it doesn’t meet our needs, something will happen or none of this has been worth it. Not pretty, but the way that it probably will go down.

  6. There’s plenty of work still for you to do, Murdoc, in developing the details. As I recall, there was some discussion by military officials of 1-4 retained forts way back during the heyday of the invasion phase. It met with some negative reaction. I’ve not heard any mention of it since. I’ve been looking at a map of Iraq, but those on the ground know a lot better where a good location would be. Ideally, it would also have a port, but that might put it too near populations. Our guards need to see trouble-makers coming for miles, and be out of range of mortars which could be fired from inhabited places, I’d think. We don’t want our forces there to be constantly at risk, like we’ve had elsewhere in other times. By claiming a fort right on a border, we are not in the middle of a sovereign country. A border next to a friendly country would have some advantages, obviously. Just some ideas. I’ll look forward to your suggestions of the best location(s).

  7. If we truly believe in the power of Democracy then a part of that belief is that a democratic government may have a few hiccups but it will ultimately elect leaders with similar ideas as our own. There may be some people they elect that we aren’t thrilled with, but a legitimate democracy is the best defense against a repeat of Iraq’s past. HOWEVER, if democracy is subverted and an unstable, threatening and/or oppresive government threatens our security I have no problem with us invading them. Afterall, we always have to look out for our best interests – that’s part of democracy too. -jdm.