The Best Of A Bad Situation

It's disheartening to see so many negative reactions from people in reaction to the encouraging events in Iraq yesterday. Most of the ones who are either disappointed in the success of the election process or even outright hoping it fails are either leftists or libertarians. Ideology has become an obstacle to an objective evaluation of the facts.

You might be wondering how I, someone who chooses not to vote in US elections, can see positives in yesterday's election. Well, Iraq is not the US, and an election in Iraq is not the same as an election in the US. America has a long history of political institutions and cultural traditions that that stretch back hundreds of years and leave a vital role for a civil society outside the reach of the state. Voting in the US is at worst, a dubious expression of majority-rule ethics and at best, a pointless economic exercise that redistributes wealth from thousands of special interests groups back to each other resulting in large deadweight losses.

Civil societies cannot flourish under the yoke of tyranny and terrorism. Facing the risk of death in order to establish a political structure that decentralizes power to a much greater degree than the sorts of dictatorships commonly found in the Middle East is an act of defiance. Voting in Iraq to firmly establish a representative democracy is a means to rise up to a more liberal order. A world full of liberal democracies can only help in moving closer to the more federalist societies I wish to live in someday.

The events that led to this point are in the past, and the future is what matters now. Much of the anti-war sentiment was based on the effects of the war on everyday Iraqis. Yet yesterday, Iraqis turned out in mass to show just what they think about how things are going at present. Though the road ahead is still long and winding, and it's likely that yesterday represents a local maximum of warm-and-fuzzy imagery, incremental changes in the right direction are welcome. Those onlookers still hoping for success for a bunch of terrorist nutball religious zealouts who want to establish a theocracy, keep women covered from head-to-toe, deny any semblance of basic human rights, and explode themselves in tribal fury into the afterlife while taking a few innocents with them... well, I don't think they give a damn about Iraqis at all.

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I was one of the people so

I was one of the people so disappointed; I guess it was due to the desire to have unequivocal proof that I was right and everyone else was wrong, because debating nuances is much harder. :)

But after some reflection I have realized that I would much rather have my neocon relatives mock my pessimism and call me a fool than see the Iraqis further mistreated. So in the end, we should cheer every step toward self-determination and freedom the residents of Iraq take regardless of the comfort it gives to those who oppose freedom here at home.

Voting in Iraq to firmly

Voting in Iraq to firmly establish a representative democracy is a means to rise up to a more liberal order. A world full of liberal democracies can only help in moving closer to the more federalist societies I wish to live in someday.

The second sentence holds plenty of water, and I would agree with it. However, the first sentence, well, it seems a tad naive and/or overly optimistic. The elections just might help lead Iraq, in time, to "a more liberal order". However, a simple election is scarcely enough to bring about a massive social shift in a culture that does not really have the fundamental values necessary to foster a lasting democratic society.

Cato's Patrick Basham said it best:

"The building blocks of a modern democratic political culture are not institutional in nature. The building blocks are not elections, parties, and legislatures. Rather, the building blocks of democracy are found amidst supportive cultural values. In short, the long-term survival of democratic institutions requires a particular political culture.

A democratic political culture demands the non-violent transfer of power, extends legal protection and equality of opportunity to women, tolerates religious, ethnic, racial, and social minorities, and recognizes the importance of fundamental political liberties such as freedom of speech and popular participation in decision-making.

Larry Diamond, an expert on democratization, bluntly states that "Iraq lacks virtually every possible precondition for democracy." Absent tangible support for liberal political norms and values, and without the foundation of a pluralistic civil society, it is next to impossible for democracy to take root. That reality was borne out over the past generation in numerous countries where authoritarian regimes were displaced by newly democratic regimes but democratization failed due to shallow foundations.

In Iraq, most of the ingredients critical to the development of a civil society are either absent or were diminished by decades of benign or deliberate neglect by Saddam and his predecessors. Iraqi society has suffered through periods of colonial rule, monarchy, Arab nationalism, and fascist revolution. In such a society, prevailing levels of political trust, social tolerance, popular support for political liberty, and gender equality fall far short of what is found in all established democracies.

Iraq's democratization will be hindered by cultural and religious factors that neither stimulate nor foster political liberty. Iraqi political organizations are not ready to concede defeat in a political contest. Critically, both the Shiite and Sunni Muslim religions prescribe a decidedly anachronistic view of a woman's role in society.

A political culture shapes democracy far more than democracy shapes the political culture. One must hope that, against all available evidence, contemporary Iraqi political culture has minimal influence on the new Iraqi democracy.

Democracy is an evolutionary development rather than an overnight phenomenon. No single day of good news from Iraq changes that reality.

While I disagreed with the war, I support and cheer any moves toward representative government. This is a great day for Iraqis, and hopefully a turning point. But I fear that it may be a bit naive to think that a singular election, for the most part staged by occupying forces, is going to suddenly create all the necessary political and cultural values Basham noted above. Sure, those values could maybe be forced upon their political regime by our gun-wielding troops (remember how we forced them to have a "female quota" in their interim government?), but that will only last with certainty as long as we have troops on the ground. I simply cannot imagine Iraq adopting all of these western-style political values and keeping them in place after we leave---especially those values that coincide with their religious and cultural ones (i.e. gender equality).

coincide = conflict

coincide = conflict

Cato’s Patrick Basham said

Cato’s Patrick Basham said it best:

I think Jonathan said if very well: ". . . the future is what matters now."

--Diana

Jonathan, Would you have

Jonathan,

Would you have voted in Iraq if eligible?

One statistic I haven't seen

One statistic I haven't seen reported in the major news outlets: What percentage of the Sunni population voted? That is the big question. If the Sunni population has decided to put faith in a majoritarian government not of their choosing, then there will be peace. If not, expect the security situation to continue to be as bad or worse and for US troops to remain there for a long time.

It's no suprise that a high percentage of Shi'ites decided to vote. They were oppressed under Saddam and look forwards to excercising power in the new government. Another million dollar question: how many of the voters shown dancing and singing in the street were not Shi'ites? I suspect the answer to be 0.

Just split the damn country in three, is what I say.

Democracy - Liberty = South

Democracy - Liberty = South Africa

- Josh

None of those lunatic

None of those lunatic assylums, Iraq, Iran, Israel, et al have a clue what 'democracy' is, and merely parrot the optics and parade it around to curry world favor and continue the liberal/religious warmachine gravy train. its pathetic.:neutral:

Voting in the US is at

Voting in the US is at worst, a dubious expression of majority-rule ethics and at best, a pointless economic exercise that redistributes wealth from thousands of special interests groups back to each other resulting in large deadweight losses.

Jonathan, how can what happened in Iraq end up or be any different from what you've just said? They may just get getting going and therefore don't have those thousands of leeching special interest groups to contend with - yet. But the nature of democratic governments incentivizes such things from the beginning. I can see how a semi-pluralistic quasi-democratic government imposed by the Iraqis living within it is better than the Hell of Saddam's institutions. I cannot see how such a system is going to adress what you've rightly singled out as things to avoid.

Didn't the Russians TRULY

Didn't the Russians TRULY BELIEVE they were doing the Czechs and the Poles and.... a favour? they really did. trying to force a foreign ideology down someones desperate throat, will aleviate the 'pain' temporarily, but theres no doubt it'll revert backwards,costing thousands of lives and mis appropriating billions of peoples hard earned dollars. Logic does not work with religion(s), especially in an emotionally charged atmosphere. Look at the westbank. you can let those fools vote till their blue in the face, they'll still be at each others throats. It didn't work in Vietnam and it won't work here. The fundamental flaw in all of these cases is the western liberal delusion that 'we're all the same'. we're not and we never will be, and trying to foist/force judeo/christian liberal altruism in the guise of 'voting' on the rest of the world is leading to thousands of dead underclass americans and billions of dollars in useless, non productive hardware. there is no rationalization for it. i wish they would come out and say' yes, it's to control the airspace west of Iran or whatever.'fair enough. why constantly lie?

Evan, The second sentence

Evan,

The second sentence holds plenty of water, and I would agree with it. However, the first sentence, well, it seems a tad naive and/or overly optimistic. The elections just might help lead Iraq, in time, to “a more liberal order". However, a simple election is scarcely enough to bring about a massive social shift in a culture that does not really have the fundamental values necessary to foster a lasting democratic society.

I'm not making any predictions, but rather merely stating that this is a first good step. I'm glad a large number of voters had the balls to tell the religious wackos to go to hell. For the reasons you quoted, I'm still skeptical about the long term success of Iraq in becoming a liberal democracy.

JTK, Yes. I don't want to

JTK,

Yes. I don't want to get into arguments about voting on this post, so I'll just say that my goal would simply be to set an example for my immediate friends and family and express my desire to live in a society not ruled by religious wackos.

Josh, Democracy - Liberty =

Josh,

Democracy - Liberty = South Africa

Yes, I realize that. One of the first posts I made on this blog made this exact point wrt Iraq:

Iraq needs liberty, not democracy

However, the outcomes dependent on today's events were either a broad-based successful election or empowerment of Zarqawi et al. Thus far, it seems that the former took place.

Charles, I can see how a

Charles,

I can see how a semi-pluralistic quasi-democratic government imposed by the Iraqis living within it is better than the Hell of Saddam’s institutions. I cannot see how such a system is going to adress what you’ve rightly singled out as things to avoid.

It doesn't matter if it the new system doesn't address what I've singled out to avoid. Iraqis have been living in such tyranny for decades that having to worry about special interest groups would be one of the best things that could happen. It beats having to worry about being buried alive in a mass grave or having your children tortured in front of you.

Honestly, what did you expect to happen but didn't that made you "very, very sad"?

qwest, That may all be true,

qwest,

That may all be true, but the US is already trying to re-engineer the country. It's already knee-deep. The events yesterday had only two main outcomes:

- high-participation election
- electorate stays at home and religious thugs become empowered

My post was only about objecting to some people *hoping* that the second would occur so that reality would be more in line with their ideological positions.

Nice post, Jonathan.

Nice post, Jonathan.

Yeah, I think it's an

Yeah, I think it's an important point that believing "democracies have serious flaws that disempower their citizens" does *not* mean believing "all elections are pointless". I think there are a few things that would be better than a democracy, but I admit there are a lot of things that are worse.

ok, i see where you were

ok, i see where you were going. fair enough. its good to have 'progress', your right. no one wishes or hopes anyone is tortured or murdered or loses their freedom to thugs. its good everyone could at least have 30 minutes peace to do whatever, vote, shop, have a coffee. i am certain they felt that was a day worth enjoying for a change. there have probably been very few of those. :smile:

"...my goal would simply be

"...my goal would simply be to set an example for my immediate friends and family and express my desire to live in a society not ruled by religious wackos."

You could just tell them. I don't see what your vote has to do with it. As usual it's an exceedingly low quality signal.

And can't religious wackos win the election?

It'll turn out the same as

It'll turn out the same as Vietnam and Korea. the reason they lost is because the locals have almost no commitment to the philosophy your defending. as soon as you leave it degenerates and the locals are over run. they don't GET over run because they all WANT democracy. the five locals that want economic and religious freedom are like us libertarians. every 4 years we get'over run' by the mob that wants it their way. sadly, its all mob behavior.

"Indeed, if it weren’t for

"Indeed, if it weren’t for the fact that we know a large number of others will vote, it would be instrumentally rational for us as individuals to vote, for our single vote would have a significantly large chance to effect the outcome of the election."

And if cats could bark, they'd be dogs.

"...you can still recognize that the outcome of the Iraqi election will most likely be a force for positive change, if only because their starting point was so dismal."

It's pretty obvious that any "positive change" will occur because of American military intervention, not this election.

"I don’t see what your

"I don’t see what your vote has to do with it. As usual it’s an exceedingly low quality signal."

I think that there's a large amount of wishful thinking and disguised mysticism attached to voting. Most people tend to feel that their votes count, somehow, for whatever they want them to.

"And can’t religious wackos win the election?"

Not if all right-thinking people pool their collective efforts and move forward in democratic solidarity. Or the short form: Yes.

Even if you accept the

Even if you accept the futility of voting as an individual act, and I certainly do, we know that a large number of others will still vote, either because they don't recognize its futility or because they gain some expressive or otherwise emotional value from the act. Indeed, if it weren't for the fact that we know a large number of others will vote, it would be instrumentally rational for us as individuals to vote, for our single vote would have a significantly large chance to effect the outcome of the election.

So even if you think voting as an individual act is instrumentally futile, you can still recognize that the outcome of the Iraqi election will most likely be a force for positive change, if only because their starting point was so dismal.