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Correct Diagnosis, Wrong Prescription

Reader comment on item: A Strongman for Iraq?

Submitted by Todd Wintering (United States), Apr 28, 2003 at 13:53

The article is certainly correct in advocating gradual democratization instead of immediate elections. Democracy requires cultural and institutional prerequisites; holding elections in their absence will only bring illiberal forces to power. Yet, installing a strongman is not the answer. It's often forgotten that while Ataturk pursued westernizing reforms domestically his foreign policy was essentially anti-Western. Any strongman would likely appeal to similar anti-Western nationalism to gain legitimacy. We have a very poor track record attempting this approach in the middle east - some even hailed Saddam as a modernizer.

A strongman can work against democratization. The trend toward democracy in Britain beginning with the Magna Carta focused on increasing the power and perogatives of the aristocracy at the expense of the crown. Eventually these aristocratic liberties diffused to the lower classes and democracy ensued. Instead of a strongman, we should transfer power to a senate or parliament of westernized elites. As Iraq's economy develops and an educated middle-class emerges they can be brought into the power structure. Denying absolute power to any one man fosters democratic habits of compromise and conciliation. Perhaps the old Roman Republic can furnish the best model. Along with the Senate executive authority can be vested in two consuls serviving one year terms, each with veto power over the other. An aristocratic republic can more easily evolve into a representative democracy and minimizes the danger of a new Saddam emerging. Such a system also affords us a greater opportunity to operate behind the scenes and exercise the needed influence in guiding post-bellum Iraq.
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