Mary Pitt: Inflicting Democracy
by Mary Pitt
The President has declared that he intends to keep our army in Iraq until they have a "democratic constitution" and are able to maintain order. To him, this would appear to be the fulfillment of his goal to "establish democracy" but one is led to question whether democracy, that treasured method of government which is so taken for granted in our own nation, is something that can be inflicted on a nation in which it is a totally foreign and despised concept. Through the ages, the nations of the Middle East have been ruled by kings or despots of one sort or another as a loose amalgamation of tribes and religious sects with leaders who take their power from the ruling structure of each community. This is their culture and, it seems, they are as proud and jealous of its protection as we are of our own system.
The best thing that can be said about the conquest of Iraq is that we freed the people from the despotism of Saddam Hussein and they are now able to choose their own path to the future. However, that is not good enough for the administration. They insist that a Constitution be established which would, to all intents and purposes, turn Iraq into an image of the United States. This is counter to their culture and their religious beliefs and, if they are truly left to their own resources to draw up their own document, it would bear no resemblance to the government which we propose. A prime example of that is the government which we set up in Afghanistan. We happily declare their regime to be a "democracy" and yet their own "legally elected" president cannot venture outside the capital for fear of assassination, the war lords are the defacto rulers of the country, and women continue to be chattel. Apparently the only thing that is being protected from "insurgents" in Afghanistan is the pipeline construction. However, we are still 0 for 2 on the democracy scoreboard and we still must occupy the country in order to provide "security".
Actually, if we are to compare the process taking place in Iraq to the formation of our own government, we are leaving out a very important step, that of determining that there is nation-wide agreement that they WANT democracy. We know they want their independence from us but we have not suggested that they hold a vote of any kind in order to establish such a declaration as we formulated when pursuing our freedom from England. They have, however, made this wish perfectly clear in light of the "insurgency" which is increasing in intensity by the day. You see, the Iraqis refer to us as the "occupiers" and, more than anything they desire from us, they want us GONE! One might surmise that, once this task is accomplished, they might then proceed to solve their problems of government.
At the birth of our own nation, we engaged in a years-long war to drive the King's rule from our shores and only then did our leaders come together to determine the form the government of our new nation would take and to create documentation of that fact and laws pertaining to the establishment of an independent government. Initially, there was popular support for the establishment of a monarchy with George Washington at the helm but Mr. Washington refused the honor. At the end of his eight years as President of the new nation, he was urged to continue as he was the popular choice and, again, he was offered the position of King. Again he refused and departed government, setting a pattern for two-term service that lasted until the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. At that time, even our ancestors felt that they would be more comfortable with the same kind of government from which they had just won their freedom!
Thus, if Iraq is truly to have a democracy, it seems that first they must request that the United States withdraw all troops and administrative personnel from their borders; however we have not permitted such a decision, so they had to skip that part and go right to the act of forcing us to go. We should find a way to do so. There are several international agencies who could assume responsibilty for the monitoring of truly free elections wherein the people could make their own determination as to the form of their new government and their choice of leaders. Otherwise they would be quite willing to fight it out among themselves since the varying religious sects have been at each others' throats for centuries. The major problem is that the people of Iraq are not and never were a homogeneous people. They are remnants of previously separate nations who historically hated each other and engaged in bloody wars over the centuries but were held together by brutal dictators who were deliberately put in place by world powers for that purpose. If they were truly to decide their own future, we would have three different nations and, once again, competing and warring governments. They cannot agree on anything sufficiently to come together under a Federalist system which would function adequately. And throwing women's rights and human equality into the mix as a necessity to satisfy the West increases the difficulty as it is totally opposed to their fundamentalist Muslim religion.
In addition, there is the question of the form that government might take. The Shia want a "Federalist" form of government with three loosely tied autonomous regions loosely allied in a Federal government. Of course, the Shia occupy the oil-rich southern area and would become immensely rich whereas the Sunni in the central region would be reduced to finding other businesses and occupations, while the Kurds benefit by the richness of natural resources in their area. Needless to say, the Kurds and the Shia are unwilling to create a nationalized system of sharing all natural resources. Since one of our major reasons for invading their nation was to open up their oil fields to the profiteering of the American-backed multi-national corporations, we are certainly not going to be steering them toward that compromise.
If the members of the Bush administration had bothered to learn just a bit about the history and the culture of the region before invading, they would have reached the same conclusion as those in the previous Bush administration. It would have been best to "contain" Saddam Hussein, insulating his neighbors from any likelihood of harm from his aggressions, and keeping his army within their own borders. We have, under the blatant ignorance and incompetence of our own leaders, entered the same trap that proved so devastating to the earlier Crusaders. The Arab world is very easy to fight the way into. Getting out may be more difficult. Until we find a way to do just that, our sons, husbands and fathers will be reminiscent of those brave souls who gave their all in the Crimean War: "Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do.....or die!"