August 07, 2003

Democracy in Iraq? It's a Fairy Tale

Edward N. Luttwak argues that implementing democracy in Iraq is a dangerous and costly goal:

It would be an astonishing achievement of cultural transformation if a functioning Iraqi democracy could be established in a mere 30 years, or even 60. The Bush administration cannot, of course, contemplate decades of colonial government. It is therefore pushing for rapid progress toward the formation of an elected government after a constitution, duly publicized across the country and approved by national referendum, is written by the Iraqi governing council. Although the new government is to have a very small army, along with police forces respectful of civil rights, it better be heavily armed all the same, for so are millions of Iraqis fiercely opposed to majority rule.

But even that perilously accelerated timetable is much too slow for many Iraqis and for U.S. forces. It is not that the troops are frightened by the sporadic attacks against them - total casualties remain too small for that - but that most are disgusted by the futility of their duties.

They are repairing schools in the furnace heat of the Mesopotamian summer while able-bodied Iraqis nearby are idly watching, if not jeering. They are clearing playgrounds for children who have been taught to throw stones at them. They are guarding hospitals from looters while being cursed even by the visitors of the patients they are protecting.

The officers who now govern towns, city quarters and entire districts are constantly besieged by local leaders and imams demanding more of everything, from electricity to well-paid jobs, but who resist any suggestion that they themselves could act, for example, by leading their followers in badly needed cleanups of garbage-strewn streets. They prefer to keep them listening to their speeches and sermons for hours.

It is therefore not just the successive delays in rotating forces home that are ruining morale but the mission impossible of turning Iraqis into democrats in short order.

Now that hopes of recruiting large numbers of peacekeepers from other countries have faded, the time has come to prepare the next-best exit strategy.