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False Dichotomy in Postwar Planning

Reader comment on item: After Saddam? Remaking the Mideast

Submitted by Todd Wintering (United States), Feb 14, 2003 at 16:02

The fate of a post-Saddam Iraq is an extremely complex issue and we should be wary of framing the debate as an either/or choice between two overly simplified options. On the one hand the optimists seem to claim that democracy can take root in Mesopotamia practically overnight and point to the success of democratization efforts in Germany and Japan after WWII. Pessimists rightly counter that such views ignore important cultural factors which make some societies more receptive to democracy than others. Mr. Carter and others (Stanley Kurtz comes to mind) make a good point in calling attention to the role of the Meiji Restoration in laying the cultural foundation for the success of MacArthur's democratization. However, these objections do not obviate the eventual need to bring democracy to the Arab world.
Although pessimists such as Bacevich offer valid criticism their alternative is equally unacceptable. The failure of the Islamic world to come to grips with modernity fuels the movement toward Militant Islam. Force alone cannot solve this problem. From a long term perspective the status quo in the Middle East is simply unacceptable. No display of military force can turn anachronism such as Saudi Arabia into a reliable ally.
We should instead seek a third route of gradual reform. Instead of insisting on immediate democracy, we should focus of the cultural prerequisites for democracy's emergence. Although we cannot expect to implement "one man, one vote" overnight we can certainly do better than repressive theocracies and Baath dictatorships. We should insist at a minimum on the following reforms:
-Rule of Law and secular government, including an independent judiciary. An absolute end to state support of militant Islam
-An adherence to basic norms of human rights
-The development of an independent press and a system of seuclar education
-Private property rights and transparency in government as a measure to curb corruption and attract investment

We should institute a republican form of government to be run initially by a narrow, Westernized elite with the U.S. military remaining to secure stability. With a rational government and an open economy we should see burgeoning middle class. As this class develops they can be graudally incorporated into the political process, eventually achieving full democracy over the course of two or three generations. Democracy developed gradually in the modern West through a similar process. Even pessimists should agree that these modest initial goals are within our power and are certainly preferable to the likes of Mr. Hussein.
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