Friday, December 16, 2005

Correlates of Democracy

We had a chapter in the Introduction to Political Science course that I taught which dealt with “correlates of democracy”—the factors of the political environment which contribute to success for a democratic form of government. It was enlightening and should be included in any serious political science curriculum.

Most Americans will offer the knee-jerk opinion that democracy is the best form of government and will often add the Winston Churchill witticism that “democracy is the worst…except for all others.” The truth of the matter is that democracy requires a lot of things to come together. The chapter of the textbook we used offered a list of factors and I likened it to a checklist for democracy. You could go down the list and the more factors that were present the greater probability of forming a stable democratic government.

Events in Iraq make this discussion relevant. Using the checklist, it is easy to come to the conclusion that there is little hope yet the landmarks along the path since the overthrow of Saddam seem to indicate that the Iraqi people are defying the odds. Yesterday’s election and the accompanying news coverage of smiling, dancing, exuberant men and women at the polling places lead me to the conclusion that incredible progress is being made.

One of the most critical correlates for a successful democracy (one which, by the way, defies America’s obsession with diversity,) is that a society should be homogeneous. Take a society with ethnic, cultural, religious, historic, philosophical, moral, and language similarities and you’ve got a better chance of establishing democracy than in a society that is fractured in any of those characteristics. Iraq clearly fights an uphill battle in this area.

Historically, Iraq is a colonial construct of the British. They carved out a nation with little regard for the regional differences of Kurds, Shi’ia and Sunni. There are deep differences between the religious and tribal views of these groups, yet they are bound together today inside a border drawn by a regional outsider. Despite this, they have in the past two years come together to attempt a difficult task. Most impressive has been the shift over the last eight months of the Sunni segment of the population from boycott of the provisional election to enthusiastic participation in the recent polling. Recognition that the process would go on with or without them, they chose to join and become a player in the government.

Other correlates, though not as distinct as the issue of homogeneity in society, include:

a.) History of democracy—not much to build on here.

b.) Democratic neighbors—decidedly absent in the Middle East, unless you’re willing to count the theocracy of Iran.

c.) Plurality—an uphill fight for a region with intense religious influence in all political matters. Building coalitions on various issues from hugely divergent religious sects is incredibly difficult.

d.) Sense of nation—the colonial history followed by the years of autocratic minority Ba’athist rule denies a strong identification with the nation. Individuals are having to overcome identification as Shi’ia or Sunni and think of themselves as Iraqi.

e.) Free market economy—good results in the Kurdish sector and some influence in the south, but an uphill battle for entrepreneurs in much of a previously state-centric economy.

f.) Fair taxation—governmental services cost and there needs to be confidence in equality of burden-sharing. Not a historic strongpoint for the region which still sees the excesses of Sadaam’s palaces.

g.) History of freedom—political process takes freedom. Free speech, free press and free assembly are basic. These have been absent for a long time.

h.) Political parties—it’s tough to know what a representative stands for. Parties fill that need by defining an agenda. For years, Iraq has been a one-party system. Now it’s a system of hundreds of parties, many of which are not yet clearly defined. This will need to evolve and better sooner than later.

i.) Civilian control of the military—here’s an area where the coalition influence on rebuilding can have great dividends. Modeling the new security system on ours and making them responsive to the new government will be a difficult task.

j.) Independent judiciary—always difficult to establish. The people must have faith in the rule of law and not of the privileged class.

k.) Middle class—a strong plus here for the urban areas of Iraq. As rebuilding proceeds, the middle class should stabilize and grow, creating a buffer between the historic privileged and the downtrodden breeding grounds for insurgency.

These are a few of the “correlates” and it is easy to understand the magnitude of the task of building a democracy in Iraq. They’ve got few of the success factors in place, yet they have come from total dictatorship to a provisional government, a constitution, and now free elections for a permanent government in a matter of months. Progress has been impressive.

The unifying factors vary, but whether it is a desire for power-sharing, a patriotism seeking to build a modern, free Iraq, or a simple desire to stabilize the nation and open the door for the coalition forces to leave; the result is good.

It will be interesting in the next few days to see how the failure-mongers of the left will try to make lemonade out of these very sweet lemons.

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