Sunday, February 06, 2005

Predictably, they're lining up to mock the Iraqi elections

As predicted, Western Liberals lined up to put down the Iraqi poll. Firstly there was Andrew Gilligan in London's Evening Standard. Whilst commenting on provinces in Iraq that were unable to take part for security reasons, or unwilling to participate, Gilligan likened the situation to a British election taking place without East Anglia. Well the last time I checked, people in East Anglia weren't threatened with a death sentence for voting. And even if they were, it wouldn't have made much difference, apathy would have kept many of them at home anyway. Gilligan then goes on to mock Shiites voting for particular candidates on the instruction of their Mullahs, and the fact that one polling station is named after a Shiite martyr closely connected with Sistani (Gilligan likens this to a polling station named after Tony Blair. Even if a polling station was named after Tony Blair, would that make you vote for him?).

Then there was Simon Jenkins in last week's London Times. The title should have given it away: "Sunday's election is meagre payback for reducing Iraq to utter chaos". He argued that the election should have taken place six months after the invasion of Iraq, before the Sunnis were alienated. My question is: How in six months, in a country without democracy, could political parties be set up, candidates be fielded, constituency boundaries set, security planned and election officials be trained? He goes on to say:

"I will never decry the sanctity of elections, but they are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. History is awash in dictators and one-party rulers born of the franchise. Wars are justified not by an election but by the totality of their aftermaths. Many countries have toppled undemocratic regimes without an American invasion, from Iran to Russia to South Africa and, most recently, Ukraine. Where America has intervened — in Lebanon, Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo and Afghanistan — the outcome has only rarely been democracy".

It's a pity that Simon Jenkins fails to mention the two best examples of American occupation: Japan and Germany. Whilst many of the allies wanted Germany be reduced to an agricultural backwater following her defeat in World War II, the Americans transformed Germany into a liberal democracy and economic powerhouse that outgrew many of the allies who defeated her.

The point is that if the Americans are going to establish a democracy, they might as well do it properly, rather than cutting and running as they have so often done in the past. America's early departure will make no difference to the insurgents (or Western critics for that matter) who will view whatever Government that emerges as a puppet of the US and will attempt to strangle it at birth.

To many in the West, the attitude to democracy seems to be: "If it's imperfect than why bother?". But by their standards, is there even a single democracy in the world? With the UK's democracy, the largest party has power, even with a minority of the votes. In the US, the largest party holds power, but with a low turnout (as with Clinton in 96'), only a quarter of the population votes for the winner. And then you have proportional representation, where tiny political parties hold the balance of power and then go on to dictate Government policy. Do any of those systems truly answer to the will of the majority? No, but as Chuchill famously said: "democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried."

The sad truth is that too many liberals believe democracy to be an exclusively western value, and that respecting other cultures means respecting the sovereignity of other nation states, even if they are dictatorships. Iraq has proved the contrary: That regardless of culture, geography, or what they think of the Americans, people desire to be masters of their own destiny, and if we regard ourselves as true democrats, we should be supporting them.