Tuesday, March 06, 2007

With These Bombs Democracy

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.


Jason Kemp said...

RE: Search PA site

Did you try a a search like this


Might help

Terence said...

Thanks Jason. I did try that one, and to no avail. I think the thread in question may have been to recent for google to have 'grabbed' yet.



|3run0 said...

Terence, this is what I think:

In Japan and Germany the only viable (as far as mobilizing a sizeble insurgency went) ideologies had been thoroughly defeated by the end of the war. Germans and Japanese only needed to look out through the gaps where windows once stood to understand that neither 'Aryan' supposed racial supremacy nor the bushido spirit could win a rematch. The Allies had demonstrated the ability and willingness to obliterate entire cities, and to permanently displace millions of civilians. Under such circumstances, further resistance was seen as national suicide.

In contrast, in Iraq there were two fresh competing ideologies ready to take over after long-rotten baathism collapsed: Al Qaedas psycho brand of wahabism and shiia mahdi milenarism. After the fall of Baghdad Iraqi society effectively unraveled, and the government ceased to exist altogether. In the vacuum created by pre-war baathist rot and post-war American ineptitude and cravenness, these two ideologies took root. Now, with the genie out of the bottle, I'm afraid it will take a long time and much blood before they are discarded as the noxious crap they really are.

Terence said...

Obrigado Bruno,

I think you make an interesting point.

Ainda escrivando nos 'comments boxes' do Lugar do Harry? (forgive my Portuguese it is very very rusty)

|3run0 said...

Hi Terence! Sim, continuo escrevendo no 'Lugar do Harry' (there are some good people posting there, in spite of the more than occasional displays of sheer lunacy). Eu não sabia que você falava português, rusty or otherwise. If you want to practice it a bit, you might want to check out my own blog. You would find out how I was almost arrested over a couple of banana leaves...

Terence said...

Hi there Bruno,

Had a quick look at your blog the other day actually. It was late though and I was tired and reading in Portuguese started to make my head swim. Which is depressing: I've spent time in Portugal, Cabo Verde and Brazil, and even got to a point where I was interviewing people in, very bad, Portuguese for my masters thesis. Do you have a link to the actual post on folhas da banana (if I've got that correct).


Terence (ps although I gave up long ago, I'm sure your commenting favourably tilts the sanity to lunacy ratio at HP)

|3run0 said...

Terence, you can say 'folha de banana', although 'folha de bananeira' is more common.

The post in question

And thank you!

Terence said...

hi there Bruno - busy weekend for me (organising a surf contest). Thanks for the link though - does bananeira mean banana tree? I'll have a read of your post on Sunday.

|3run0 said...

Yeah, bananeira is banana tree. Usually you add a -eira to fruit name to generate the tree name. Thus:

Maçã (apple) -> Macieira
Pera (pear) -> Pereira
Manga (mango) -> Mangueira
Jaca (dunno) -> Jaqueira
Goiaba (gueva) -> Goiabeira

Terence said...

so does that make a cafeteira a coffee tree? ;)

|3run0 said...

Damn it! Now that you found a logical flaw in our language we'll have to go back to the drawing boards to fix it. Those responsible will be sacked, of course.

In the meantime, we'll be provisionally be speaking Proto-Nabatean. Portuguese service will resume shortly.

Terence said...

just out of interest, how many forms of each verb would I have to learn in Proto-Nabatean? I'm sensing it could be an improvement...

|3run0 said...

Well, I suppose any language in which the regular verbs outnumber the irregular ones, and has anything less than a dozen verb tenses modified by every grammatical element under the sun would be an improvement over Portuguese ;-). This whole 'cafeteira' fracas will probably prompt us to come up with a couple of new tenses just for fun.

As for Proto-nabatean, there is the infinitive, imperfect, perfect and continuous presents, pasts, and futures; the implicit subjunctive and the quasi-dislocated unformed ablative, colloscotomitive and geminative.

Of course, since the proto-nabateans had a firm belief in time travel and predetermination, you have about a dozen forms each for the past-that-is-yet-to-happen and the-future-that-is-already-determined.

Terence said...

Sounds like a sensible language to me. Perhaps we could suggest it as the common means of discourse for the treads at Harry's Place. (How, by the way, would one say "Pinochista" in proto-nabatean?)

More seriously, I shouldn't tease you about Portuguese. Not as a native speaker of the language of so few rules and soo many exceptions...

Terence said...

doh! "treads" reads "threads". I hope there's a Proto-nabatean spell checker somewhere....