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Monday, July 14, 2003
"Iraq has taken its first step towards self-government since the fall of Saddam Hussein with the inaugural meeting of a governing council composed of Iraqi nationals," the BBC reported yesterday. "The new body, whose 25 members were chosen by the US-led coalition occupying Iraq, met amid tight security in the former Ministry for Military Industry building in Baghdad."
Although there is some question as to what this council will actually do and Iraqis reportedly are skeptical of its ability to represent them, the formation of this council does represent a step in what is likely the path towards some form of Iraqi democratic self-rule. The Bush Administration has made too much of bringing "democracy" and "freedom" to Iraq to turn back, and so, short of the U.S. being forcibly removed from the country, it appears almost certain that the U.S. will set up some form of democratic governance in Iraq in the near future. However, such a system is not likely to come to fruition until the U.S. has taken care of its major concerns in the country and the democracy is unable to challenge those concerns.
While that may sound like a conspiracy theory, I came to this conclusion through an analysis of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's own word in late May, an analysis that was bolstered by what Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Thursday:
...we now have to focus on the future, and that is to build a better Iraq for the Iraqi people, and help them put in place a representative form of government that will make sure that there are never any more weapons of mass destruction in this country, and that it's a country that will live in peace with its neighbors.There is nothing about having "a representative form of government" that is inconsistent with having weapons of mass destruction. Democracies like the U.S. have developed weapons of mass destruction, while a country like Russia has moved towards democracy while continuing to possess such weapons. Powell can only make such a statement because to Team Bush "a representative form of government" actually means, "a government that is largely compliant with U.S. desires and which reaches this position through a modicum of popular and representative decision making."
This is nothing new. Throughout the Cold War the U.S. attacked Soviet bloc countries for their lack of democracy, but, as U.S. involvement in anti-democratic coups in Guatemala in 1954 and Chile in 1973 make clear, democracy was not necessarily enough for the U.S. to leave a country alone. As Slavoj Zizek observes in 2002's Welcome to the Desert of the Real, more recently "democracy" in the context of the Palestinian people is a term that has come to be used to refer to scenario where the Palestinians are defeated and demoralized to the point of giving up on the use of violence as a tactic in their struggle for some conception of "liberation."
This phenomenon can be seen a group like the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a group that only seems interested in defending democracies when doing so coincides with exporting democracy to other countries so as to get them on the same page as the U.S. Democracy is the preferred form of an obedient regime, in other words.
If the construction of such a democracy in Iraq goes relatively smoothly, and there are of course those who want to prevent that from happening, the Iraqi experience will likely become a model for the U.S. to follow when taking over other countries and establishing new governments. It is worth noting, however, that President George W. Bush has made a gesture towards promoting democracy in countries that the U.S. does in fact get along with. At the same time, it would be foolish for the U.S. to start attacking allies -why make more people hate you and cause your resources to be further stretched for little gain-, and one would like to believe something that almost certainly won't be happening. This latter reality will inhibit the former impulse, but to what extent? What sort of framework of relations with allies will the U.S. develop in light of this tension? Will non-democratic allies assume a lesser position compared to democratic allies? Definitive answers might not be soon forthcoming as it will take some time to get enough examples, but the creation of such a framework that is stable will do a lot to allow for stability, although anything even approaching perfect stability is likely to remain out of reach, in the world that will be created and recreated by the "war on terror."