A while ago in the comments to one of Russell Brown's posts over at Public Address a debate erupted about the possibility of outside powers successfully bringing democracy to a country via invasion: bombing a country to the ballot box so to speak.
Annoyingly, I can't find the actual thread now, but the debate started with someone claiming that democracy could only grow from the grassroots up. To which Craig Rangipia - the Right's busiest blog commenter - replied (paraphrase) "What about Germany and Japan?"
This, I think, is a pretty good question.
One could argue - as some commenters then did - that Germany was a democracy up until the mid 1930s and so all that was required was a re-introduction. And I guess - if you were feeling like a smart-alec you could say something like "Japan still isn't a democracy."
But that would be besides the point - Japan could, unlike Cuba say, be a multi-party democracy if its populous chose for it to be. And, in Germany's case, it may have once been a democracy but it had sure strayed a long way from that tradition by the time World War 2 ended.
So, in my mind, the real question remains. Why were the allies able, in the wake of World War 2, to occupy, democratise, and facilitate the reconstruction of the Axis powers, while the occupation of Iraq has been such a disaster.
One answer to this that I don't think holds much water is that democracy doesn't work in the Middle East. Given the country's remarkably violent history, and the persistent interventions by its neighbours, Lebanon's democracy does remarkably well. While the very limited democracy available in Iran functions promisingly (current president not withstanding).
What does make things more difficult in Iraq is the internal divisions within the country - primarily between Sunni and Shia. The sad thing here is that such divisions weren't - if I understand the situation correctly - that acute prior to the invasion. But they simmering below the surface. And the invasion clearly turned up the heat. Then it was possible for small groups of zealots to exploit the divisions and, quite literally, have them blow up in the face of the US occupiers.
The existence of these zealots themselves was obviously another factor counting against successful reconstruction. Although presumably similar such zealots must have existed in Germany post WW2 (maybe not Japan though? where, perhaps, the emperor's surrender was enough? I'm unsure on this). What changed in the intervening 58 years, however, was the nature of insurrection. As far as I can tell, suicide bombing and terrorist strikes with little regard to civilian casualties, weren't in the insurgent text book back in 1940 Germany. Which made things easier for the occupiers. Possibly too, the Nazi's defeat was so complete that successful insurrection seemed implausible.
The main difference to me, however, appears in the nature of the occupation. When the allied forces occupied Germany and Japan they knew it was in their interests to successfully reconstruct the countries and their economies (as bulwarks against communism if nothing else). And they took practical steps to do so. On the other hand Bush and Co. seemed primarily concerned with funneling money to their former employers and buddies. What's more they appeared to be almost blinded by both neo-conservative and neo-liberal ideology. As neo-cons they really seemed to think that all that would be required would be some bombs, some money making, and then to sit back and watch the roses fly. As neo-liberals they were behest to a free market ideology which has a track record patchy at the best of times and a sure fire disaster in post conflict situations. Job creation schemes and public works may be deeply unsexy in Davos but does anyone think that allowing 70% unemployment to blossom in post invasion Iraq was going to help in peace-building. Honestly.
So the question remains: could Iraq ever have been invaded, occupied and made democratic. I'm not sure. I'm sure that the Bush brigade were never up to it (which is one of the main reasons I opposed the war in the first place). But even if - to use pro-war writer David Arronovitch's term - we had had the 'Nelson Mandela Peace Corps' at our disposal I'm just not sure whether letting the genies of war out of the bottle in the tinder dry world of rising Islamism and potential sectarian violence could have led to a better outcome for the people of Iraq.
If you're interested, Francis Fukuyama has his take (a video) on the same matter here. It's pretty splutter-worthy but it does make the odd interesting point.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007