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Friday, July 13

Are Iraqis genetically indisposed to democracy?

"Pundita, On Thursday Tucker Carlson and two of his guests on his MSNBC show sat around saying it was "preposterous" to think that Iraqis could ever accept democracy and that most of the world is clans, sects, and tribes and that can't be changed. They didn't come right out and say it, but they implied that Iraqis are genetically incapable of democracy.

I know I shouldn't be upset about the cawing of talking heads but I am upset because I think that many in Washington have come to believe the same idea about Iraqis.
Jan in Reston"

Dear Jan:
What's preposterous is to believe that one can easily argue people out of a value system, which it seems the neoconservatives assumed could be done in the Arab world through the creation of a model. They wanted to convert an Arab country to a successful modern democracy that would be a model for other Arab countries in the region.

The neocons got tripped up because they looked at democracy in terms of a value system. In their view democracy is grounded in a definition of human rights, which requires considerable freedom to uphold and defend. But the crying need for democratic government in this era is not grounded in a value system, unless one wants to say that survival is a human value.

The need for democracy is grounded in the fact that an autocratic system of government is inadequate to minister to the survival needs of human megapopulations. That's because an autocracy necessarily means that a few control decision-making about government administration.

The multitude and complexity of governing tasks in a large society demand that government involve large numbers of citizens -- if a government doesn't have the money to outsource government administration to foreign firms. In either situation, the need for oversight skyrockets.

The only form of government capable of managing oversight and making effective decisions for a large society is modern democracy, which at least in theory involves the entire adult populace in government decision making.

This is a lesson the Chinese are learning the hard way, I might add. The CCP ended up taking Singapore as their development model. But Singapore doesn't have a billion citizens.

To quickly grasp my argument, toss out for a moment the names for various forms of government; focus instead on the number involved in decision making in managing any large organization. Then it's fairly self-evident that the fewer the number of people in positions of power, the more they will screw up while trying to govern large numbers of people.

What happens next? A tremendous amount of manpower and money gets shifted to repressing dissent. The end of that road can be seen in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Saddam and his coterie retreated inside the area that is today known as the Green Zone.

They were cut off from the real situation in Iraq because their repressive measures guaranteed that no Iraqi with the responsibility of data analysis wanted to bring bad news or news that contradicted Saddam's decisions.

The upshot? Saddam's generals didn't torch the oil wells when the Coalition invaded, and much of the army faded away instead of fighting the invasion. The Sunni Baathists who wanted to launch an insurgency found they could do so only with outside help. Help came from Syria, Iran and al Qaeda -- but it had an unacceptably high price tag, as the insurgents are learning the hard way.

As soon as you think of the task of repression in a large society in terms of energy and resource expenditure, democracy wins the governing argument.

Ironically, an excellent illustration of my points is the failures of the CPA in Iraq. A tiny American coterie served an American viceroy who had absolute decision making authority. But the governing authority simply didn't have enough manpower to support the broad spectrum of expertise and decision-making needed to manage the number of tasks in rebuilding the Iraqi society.

No amount of funds would have corrected the problem because of disagreements between State and Pentagon, and between the Bush administration and their critics. The Beltway Wars guaranteed that the US governing authority in Iraq had to be small, to limit dissenting opinion about decision making.

Then Americans say Iraqis can't do democracy. But in the failures of the CPA in Iraq one finds the best argument for democratic government. So, in an unexpected way, Iraq did become the model to study.

Regarding inborn tendencies, the human animal is genetically disposed to hanging onto power -- and even to suicidal lengths. But once you can explain to several people in a society that diffusion of power is the flip side of effective decision-making in governing a large society, they can see democracy for what it is, at root: a system for managing a large number of complex social problems. Then they're ready to work hard to make democratic government work.

I've said all the above many times and in many ways. What I didn't realize when I started blogging was how much of my writing task involved repetition, so often I chafe because I am not a teacher by temperament or training.

Americans need to learn to frame democracy outside a value system, if we want to argue for democracy to peoples raised with different value systems. Not that the value system underpinning Western democracy is wrong but it's much more difficult to demonstrate and defend than the practical reasons I've outlined for democratic government.
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