As we near the long-awaited"democratic elections" in Iraq, amidst growing violence across that country, much more attention is being given to the"nation-building" enterprise. In the current Winter 2004-2005 issue of Political Science Quarterly, Eva Bellin's essay,"The Iraqi Intervention and Democracy in Comparative Historical Perspective," offers some very insightful commentary.
Bellin begins with appropriate questions:"Is military occupation likely to be the midwife of democracy? Can democracy be imposed by force from the outside?" Since this is the"assumption driving America's intervention in Iraq and posited as a potential new pillar of ambition for U.S. foreign policy elsewhere," Bellin thinks the time is ripe for a thorough historical investigation of this strategy as a means to an end.
Many nation-builders point to Germany and Japan, for example. Clearly,"indigenous 'authoritarian' culture ... need not be an insurmountable obstacle to implanting democracy." Bellin understands, however, that"Germany and Japan began with a set of endowments, many of them anticipated by democratic theory, but others peculiar to the cases' unique historical context and time, that favored democratic outcomes." Bellin states unequivocally:"These endowments are not replicated in Iraq ..." Showing an almost Hayekian flair in her understanding of the role of unintended consequences, Bellin writes:
Historical experience suggests that although military occupation may increase the likelihood of democratization, and wise policy choices certainly improve its chances, the outcome is largely shaped by factors, both domestic and international, that cannot be controlled by military engineers operating within the confines of current cultural norms and conventional limits of time and treasure.
Whereas Iraq has never developed into a truly"advanced industrialized country," Germany and Japan were"highly industrialized countries with developed economies" prior to the Second World War, needing a major infusion of financial capital after the war. Democracies rarely endure in poorly developed countries like Iraq, which have also had few"prior experiences" with representative models. Moreover, unlike Iraq,"Japan and Germany were relatively homogeneous ethnically.""Nation building" becomes far more possible in countries where the population has a firmer"national identity" and"social solidarity." To a certain extent, that lack of"national identity" is what enabled Saddam Hussein to divide-and-rule. The Hussein regime, lacking any rule-bound state institutions, learned to exploit the social divide among Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish, in order to retain power in Iraq."Deliberate state practice of privilege and prejudice meted out along primordial lines fueled suspicion and distrust among the different communities of Iraqi society."
Bellin understands that"the rule of force" in Iraqi society has become endemic to political institutions there. It is part of the political culture as such."As a consequence, there are few institutional remnants or habits of mind ... to draw upon to help build democracy in Iraq." With no party institutions, except those rooted in" cliques of ethnic or religious elites," and with no genuine leaders of truly"national stature" (such as Emperor Hirohito in Japan) granting their imprimatur, the quest for"vibrant democracy" is severely hampered.
The article is not available free to readers, but can be ordered online here.