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Tuesday, July 17

Always and in everything, put horse before cart.

"Pundita, I've read your reply to my comments. I have to say that I don't understand how it's possible to explain democracy without mentioning the necessity of freedoms and protecting freedoms. Yet that seems to be what you're advocating.
Jan in Reston"

Dear Jan:
You run into quicksand if you confuse a system of government with a metaphysical system. Where is it demonstrated in Nature that the birthright of humans is freedom? When did Nature decree that humans have certain inalienable rights? Nature only decrees that humans have certain needs, such as the need for oxygen and water.

The argument for freedom rests on a chain of metaphysical assumptions. The argument for sound government rests on baseline survival issues. So when promoting democratic government, the discussion of freedoms properly relates to procedure; i.e., how you go about insuring that the articles of incorporation or constitution are protected from easy circumvention. That's when you can effectively argue for a plethora of rights, which represent various freedoms.

For example, humans do not have an inalienable right to a free press. However, if you want people to take on the responsibility of participating in government through the voting process, they do need to be well informed about the issues and candidates, which means a free press. Therefore, the constitution, or something akin to the Bill of Rights, can spell out the necessity for a free press.

So my arguments rest on putting the horse before the cart: first design the system government, then hash out basic procedures for making the system work.

But many Americans place arguments for freedom and inalienable rights before arguments for sound government when they argue for democracy. They turn the concept of freedom into a kind of theology. So then they're in for it when they meet someone who says, "I don't think people are entitled to freedoms, except the freedom to worship. Our only reason for existence is to serve God's will."

You can spend the rest of the century arguing metaphysics with that person. This will get you no closer to devising a system of government that works best to deal with the myriad problems created by managing a large human population that shares limited resources.

I repeat, the condition of being human does not entitle you to a free press. But if you need to execute your duty as a voter, a free press is a necessity for making informed voting decisions.

I emphasize that I have nothing against arguing for freedom and human rights; I limit my point to how one goes about making the most effective argument for democratic government to peoples living in nondemocratic countries. In short, I'm arguing that democracy should be promoted first in concrete terms.

No matter how different their abstractions -- their metaphysical assumptions and value systems -- most people are sensible when it comes to practical matters. By 'sensible' I mean able to think clearly in concrete terms, as versus highly abstract terms. So it's fairly easy to see a concrete, direct connection between a system of government and the need for procedures to protect the system. And so that's how you frame discussion about government.

Keep to the concrete when discussing concrete matters; when arguing for democracy as a system of government the issue of freedom should be framed as a procedural matter, not a metaphysical one. This way, you avoid numerous traps. The traps that eventually land you into the silly position of declaring that not all people are capable of democratic government.

I looked up the transcript to the Tucker Carlson show that prompted your earlier comments and I found the conversation you referred to.(1) Tucker's discussion included Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, and Pat Buchanan. Of course nods of agreement, facial expressions, and crosstalk don't show up in the transcript, but from the transcript, I don't think Robinson believes that it's "preposterous" that Iraqis can do democracy or that they're somehow incapable of managing democracy. Here's precisely what he said and the interchange that led to his comment:
PAT BUCHANAN: The Arab world has got 22 countries, almost none of which has ever been democratic. And the idea that you‘re going to — 19-year-old Marines and Army Rangers are going to go in and build this kind of society is preposterous.

We tore down the state, the government, the army, everything [in Iraq]. And you would think a democracy is going to rise out of there? It is a preposterous idea. And the whole foreign policy of the Bush administration in terms of building democracy around the world and going and fighting for it is utopian and as un-conservative as it can be.

TUCKER CARLSON: Amen, I‘m glad you...

(CROSSTALK)

EUGENE ROBINSON: There were strong Iraqi institutions below the government. There‘s clan, there‘s ethnicity, there‘s sect. And those are—that‘s what has come to the fore—head. That‘s the problem.

BUCHANAN: They are not democratic groups.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: But isn‘t that the story of the world? That‘s how most civilizations organize themselves, along those lines. I don‘t think it‘s good. It‘s actually bad most of the time, but it‘s also true. It‘s the state of man in most of the world. And if you don‘t recognize that, you‘ve no business wading into other country‘s affairs, do you?

ROBINSON: Well, and it‘s not that—you know, a society that‘s organized along those lines is incapable of becoming a democracy. It has to decide to do so, however, and it has to come up with democratic institutions that are suited to that time and place and those people.
I've included the rest of the text at the end of this post. From the entire conversation I can see why the conclusions upset you. I might add that Buchanan's general observation is poorly informed.

The CPA took several actions out of expediency that worked against installing a liberal democracy in Iraq. You can learn this from reading Rajiv Chandrasekaran's history of the CPA, titled Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone.

One action was establishing a de facto quota system for the Governing Council that was built on ethnic and sectarian lines. This tended to exclude from the council certain Iraqis who were dedicated to secular democratic government.

Then, when it came to devising the procedure for voting in Iraq, once again the CPA acted out of expediency. This was a complex situation, which Chandrasekaran explains on pages 246-8 of the book. In brief, the problem was that there was not an up-to-date census:
Without a census, there was no accurate way of knowing how many people lived in each province and, as a consequence, how to apportion seats in the assembly.
To get around this problem in time for the January 2005 election, the UN team overseeing the election wanted to consider the entire country one electoral district.

The major flaw to the UN plan was that it gave large political parties, which had the money and network to campaign countrywide, a big advantage over the smaller regional parties. This in turn guaranteed that moderates and secularist candidates would be marginalized in the vote and thus, get fewer seats in the assembly. That's what happened, even though there were viable alternatives to the UN plan.

Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani suggested that Iraqis use their food ration cards, which were universally distributed in Iraq, as their voter registration card. Rajiv recounts that several CPA members didn't like the UN plan and agreed that Sistani's plan was workable.

The Pentagon, State Department, and Vice President Cheney's office were also against the UN plan, for sound reason: they argued that by treating Iraq as one electoral district, this would give the two largest Shiite religious parties a big advantage.

However, Bremer went with the UN plan, which guaranteed that the Islamist parties -- the ones that really wanted a Sharia government over democracy -- got the most political power in the new government. Then Buchanan says Iraqis can't do democracy.

The incidents I outlined from Chandrasekaran's book are not the only two where the CPA made decisions that stymied Iraq's most pro-democratic movements. However, the two incidents are stark illustration that the US government put an unfair handicap on Iraqis who were determined that Iraq's government should be secular and truly representative of all Iraqis.

So Pat Buchanan is overlooking the factor of American actions when he says that it's preposterous to assume that after toppling their government, Iraqis couldn't do democracy. Actually, Iraqi leaders wanted to insure that a dictatorship wouldn't rise again in their country, and they understood that democratic government was the way to prevent this. What they needed was procedural help with setting up the government, which left much to be desired from the American occupiers.

Another huge obstacle, which is recounted in riveting prose in many places in Rajiv's book, was that the Americans in charge of rebuilding Iraq were for the most part on the moon. They didn't prioritize the steps needed to create a democracy. The outcome was psychedelic.

Bremer told Rajiv that among his biggest accomplishments were "the lowering of Iraq's tax rate, the liberalization of foreign-investment laws, and the reduction of import duties."

What in the name of sanity do those acts have to do with establishing government -- any kind government? Yet that was the charge for the CPA: setting up a new government in Iraq.

In 2005 I wrote that what emerging democracies needed was a simple recipe book, along the lines of: "Democracy for Dummies: Setting up a government, the first 100 days." I was being sarcastic but if only we'd had such a book when we went into Iraq.

1) Tucker Carlson show interchange about democracy in Iraq:

"PAT BUCHANAN: Tucker, you‘ve hit on the basic problem of the Bush administration. He‘s on a democracy crusade which is utterly utopian.

TUCKER CARLSON: Liberal.

BUCHANAN: The Arab world has got 22 countries, almost none of which has ever been democratic. And the idea that you‘re going to— 19-year-old Marines and Army Rangers are going to go in and build this kind of society is preposterous.

We tore down the state, the government, the army, everything. And you would think a democracy is going to rise out of there? It is a preposterous idea. And the whole foreign policy of the Bush administration in terms of building democracy around the world and going and fighting for it is utopian and as un-conservative as it can be.

CARLSON: Amen, I‘m glad you...

(CROSSTALK)

EUGENE ROBINSON: There were strong Iraqi institutions below the government. There‘s clan, there‘s ethnicity, there‘s sect. And those are—that‘s what has come to the fore—head. That‘s the problem.

BUCHANAN: They are not democratic groups.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: But isn‘t that the story of the world? That‘s how most civilizations organize themselves, along those lines. I don‘t think it‘s good. It‘s actually bad most of the time, but it‘s also true. It‘s the state of man in most of the world. And if you don‘t recognize that, you‘ve no business wading into other country‘s affairs, do you?

ROBINSON: Well, and it‘s not that—you know, a society that‘s organized along those lines is incapable of becoming a democracy. It has to decide to do so, however, and it has to come up with democratic institutions that are suited to that time and place and those people.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: I want to hear the Democrats repudiate the worldview that led to this war. And none of them has.

BUCHANAN: They can‘t. They‘re Wilsonians themselves deep at heart.

CARLSON: Well, then we‘re going to do this again and again and again and again.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: Well, I don‘t know that they will. Bill Clinton did it more rhetorically than he did going aboard.

CARLSON: That‘s because he was a coward. He wouldn‘t act out his own stated beliefs. But if he had been brave enough to do what he said he believed.

BUCHANAN: If he‘d been Bush-like.

CARLSON: Exactly! So Bush‘s sin was acting out his stupid beliefs.

ROBINSON: There‘s something to be said for advocating democracy rhetorically and not trying to go in...

CARLSON: Well, you‘re—no, you‘re right. There a subtle middle ground, I agree.

ROBINSON: -- and create it where you can.

CARLSON: You probably shouldn‘t advocate strongmen. But in effect your policy ought to support them when they‘re pro-American.

BUCHANAN: Sure, that‘s Jeane Kirkpatrick, dictators and double standards. Great point.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: (INAUDIBLE) I can get behind that, Pat. That‘s very dark, very dark, but true."
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