US strategy in Iraq is based on the mistaken assumption that Arab Islamic culture is fertile ground for American-style democracy.
But has that form of democracy ever been successful in the Middle East?
It hasn’t worked in Egypt and Syria, nation’s that pretend to be democratic and send their people to the polls, only to ensure that the reigning dictator always receives at least 90% of the vote.
It hasn’t worked in Lebanon, where terror bosses fill many of the parliament’s seats and even ministerial positions, and order their own forces to violently oppose government policy when it does not mesh with their own.
The same can be said of the Palestinian Authority, which last year did hold actual democratic elections. The Palestinian Arabs were given an opportunity to democratically elect their representatives, and they overwhelmingly voted for the most blood-soaked terrorists among them.
The only “good” example of democracy in the Middle East is Jordan, and it only works there because ultimately a monarch holds the reins of power.
So why believe that a fractious Iraq will be any different? Why will that nation suddenly be the one Islamic state that will become a mirror of American and European democracy? The answer is that it won’t.
Looking at Iraq, we need to consider why there is more bloodshed and insurgency today when democracy and political freedom are being given a chance than there was during the authoritarian rule of Saddam Hussein.
What needs to be remembered is that Arab Islamic culture is based on a tribal system that still very much influences daily life in the region. In that tribal system, perception is everything, and whoever is perceived as being the strongest will be accepted as leader, even if they are hated.
Furthermore, Islam itself encompasses both personal faith and political governance. It dictates how a majority-Muslim nation is to be run.
In the case of Iraq, Saddam Hussein faced less insurgency and rebellion than today’s democratic government because he was recognized as the dominant, if not stabilizing, power within the country.
The same is true when comparing Syria and Jordan to Lebanon. Syria and Jordan have experienced relatively few uprisings because the regimes are powerful and have demonstrated their willingness to use excessive force to put down any threat to their rule.
Lebanon, however, has suffered decades of sectarian violence at least in part because efforts to maintain a Western-style democracy has created a central government that is both less powerful and less willing to use excessive force than the various other armed forces that roam the country.
The Palestinian Authority is now experiencing a similar fate because of the decision to let the people vote for who they perceived to be the strongest, and therefore the best leaders.
Over the past decade, Hamas has managed to create a perception of itself as powerful enough to do damage to the Palestinian Arabs’ greatest enemy – Israel. The group was and is viewed as the strongest among that society because of its unrepentant willingness to employ brutal violence against both external and internal enemies, unlike the PLO which, at least on the surface, pretends to follow a more Western-style of diplomacy and dialogue.
The fact of the matter is that Arab Islamic culture is not fertile ground for American-style democracy.
As I see it, America has two choices in Iraq:
Drop the idea of American-style democracy and instead implement a form a representative government that works in tandem and is at least partially subordinate to a strong central leadership that wields ultimate military power. This solution would probably require dividing Iraq along its more natural ethnic lines.
Realize that the only way to turn an authoritarian society into a truly democratic one is to implement a far more heavy-handed and drawn out occupation with the aim of completely reeducating the population.
This is precisely how Japan was transformed, over a period of many years, from a society that would sacrifice everything to expand the domains of its god-like emperor to one that now fully embraces the ideals of American democracy.
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