November 07, 2003

A Democratic Iraq? Don't Hold Your Breath

Patrick Basham, from the Cato Institute, argues that the White House efforts to establish a stable democrocay in Iraq are unlikely to succeed:

However, President Bush's plan for the democratization of Iraq is premised upon the adoption of a constitution that will be successfully implemented in the short-term by groups of Iraqi elites bargaining among one another. Bush is placing a large wager that the formation of democratic institutions in Iraq can stimulate a democratic political culture. If he's correct, it will constitute a democratic first.

On the contrary, the available evidence strongly suggests that the causal relationship works the other way round. During the 1990s, two leading political scientists studied 131 countries and concluded that economic development causes higher levels of democratic values in the political culture that, in turn, produce higher, more stable levels of democracy. In sum, a political culture shapes democracy far more than democracy shapes the political culture.

Therefore, the Iraqi democratic reconstruction project will be a good deal harder than White House theorists expect. In practice, the realization of Iraq's democratic potential will depend more on the introduction of a free market economic system and its long-term positive influence on Iraqi political culture than on a United Nations-approved election.