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Elections in Iraq

27.12.2004 11:40

The United States may have had one or more of the following seven objectives in Iraq:

  • To create good living conditions for the people of Iraq
  • To create a democracy in Iraq
  • To find and destroy weapons of mass destruction
  • To enhance the security of the United States
  • To turn Iraq into a US colony so as to control Iraqi resources
  • To enrich such US companies as Halliburton
  • Other

Let us define these objectives:

To create good living conditions for the people of Iraq

“Good living conditions” means that people respect each other, do not fight, are prosperous, and have a stable society. Right now, the Iraqis are further away from achieving this particular objective than they were at the start of the war. To leave it at that, however, would be unfair, as it is being claimed that with the advent of democracy in Iraq, conditions there would improve. Indeed, a surgeon may hurt a patient during an operation, but after the operation the patient may get better, making the temporary suffering very worthwhile. Thus, Objective One was not achieved, but may yet be achieved as a consequence of achieving Objective Two. But for that, Objective Two must be achievable, and this, as we shall see, is a big question.

To create a democracy in Iraq

Democracy is often defined on a basis of its literal translation - people’s power. But then, we immediately make a big mistake: we assume that people’s aspirations must be good, so that people’s power would automatically mean a good society. It is the same as if we were to say, “Children are good; therefore, left alone, children will make a beautiful drawing, not start a fire.”

Most Americans know better than to leave small children without supervision, and yet, they assume that all peoples share the American ideals. In fact, while all people aspire to improve their lives, their definition of “goodness” varies wildly. We all know of someone who could think of nothing better than to overdose on drugs, commit suicide, or drop out of college.

we are attempting to build in Iraq a society that would allow people to freely realize their aspirations, then we must be prepared to get what we bargained for, as people’s goals do not necessarily correspond to whatever Americans assume their goals should be. Nor is it reasonable to expect that these popular aspirations will be realized in a manner that is appropriate to the American political culture, i.e. by creating a state that consists of those who are fairly chosen and aim to serve the people.

From that, comes quite a problem: we are “liberating” the people of Iraq by imposing on them, by overwhelming military force, the ideals they may not share. This is a no-win situation: we may end up wanting them to freely express the opposite of what they feel like expressing!

“People’s power” simply means implementation of people’s desires and aspirations, whatever they may be, by a state that corresponds to this people’s level of political and social development. A herd of antelopes appears quite democratic, and we cannot fault them for lack of political debate and free press because antelopes happen to not talk or read.

Thus, if we stick to the definition of democracy as “people’s power”, it would not necessarily be a society that fulfills the social aspirations that are judged by the United States as good but will simply be a society that fulfills the social aspirations of the majority of the population in question, whatever those aspirations may be. In a society of cannibals, democracy, if it is defined in such a way, would permit, and indeed may even require, eating people.

From that, it also follows that a country can be democratic even without a vote: all that is necessary is for the leader to fulfill the aspirations of the majority of population. It follows that certain horrible regimes, such as Hitler’s, were, for a time, quite “democratic”.

Hitler’s regime was a dictatorship, of course, but so is a democracy. Indeed, according to our definition, democracy is simply a dictatorship of a majority that happened to pass a particular law. In the US Congress, there is a Republican majority, and thus the Democrats are “oppressed”: they chair no congressional committees. Similarly, the United States routinely discriminates against racists, cricket fans, those who want to have four wives, lovers of underaged children or unpasteurized cheese, etc. And the reason for such discrimination is always the same: the majority of relevant American decision makers happen to think that these things are not good, and promptly suppress them. If so, there is a difference between a “good” society and a “democratic” society: people’s power is precisely as good or as bad as the majority of population, nothing more.

Other societies have sets of values that are different from ours, and so they would, with equal legitimacy, discriminate against unmarried women, premarital sex, Jews, baseball, or peanut butter. If we define democracy as people’s power legitimized by fair elections, it is not good enough, and it is not what we meant.

Now we see that our original definition of democracy was absolutely wrong and left us thoroughly confused. On closer examination, democracy is not “a free expression of people’s will”: it is a strict and comprehensive dictatorship of the win/win mode of social interaction over the lose/lose mode, a dictatorship appreciated only by those who are willing to consistently subjugate their own worst inclinations to their best ones.

Just because there are some societies that (so they tell us) consist of people that have learned to make correct choices automatically, we cannot assume that the task of building a true democracy is easy or indeed doable everywhere on Earth.

Just because the streets of a German village are clean, we cannot assume that the streets of an African village will be: this pursuit of cleanliness took centuries to develop and implement, and still it is based on strict social control that may not be obvious but is, nonetheless, omnipresent and very oppressive. Moreover, “cleanliness” is not an absolutely positive value: it has negative consequences that Germans simply learned to bear.

Let’s do another check. People who define democracy as “free expression of people’s will” immediately go on to say that democracy “leads to economic prosperity”. How so? “Free expression of people’s will” can easily degenerate into a fistfight, destruction, and the imposition of the will of the strong.

Again, democracy is a dictatorship of the win/win, under which those who want to cooperate and grow prosper, while those who want to destroy are marginalized, cowered, and excluded. And that is why democracy is showing such a tremendous productive potential.

What is a win/win? It is a social technology, and as a social technology, it is new: less than forty years has passed since it became an industry standard. “Win/win” is a geopolitical, economic, social, and existential idea that took thousands of years to bear fruit, but chronologically, it would not be wrong to say that it appeared concurrently with the Beatles’ song “All you need is love” (1967).

Now, to say that all people of the world lived on that same timetable is similar to saying that every country at the time was technologically capable to put astronauts on the Moon. Learning the win/win is a big educational, technological, religious and existential challenge that is not limited to having contested elections. There is more to a gentleman than a top hat.

Thus, when we use the word “democracy” we actually mean “imposition of current western values and appropriate social technology in social and political life.” But since certain peoples do not share our social and political ideals (be it for some fundamental cultural or religious reason or simply because they are not yet at such an advanced stage of their social and political development) the imposition of democracy would simply mean dictatorship of “something that is not yet there” over what appears to be this people’s entire range of available options. It is as if we were ordering to fly to people that have never seen a plane but have seen a monkey fall from a tree and die.

The dictatorship of win/win is meant to be benign, and “for your own good” (as we in America see it), but the greater the divergence between the ideals the more severe, by definition, should be this dictatorship, if it is to succeed.

Now, we are clear. Supposedly for their own good, we are attempting to forcefully impose on the Iraqis American definition of what is good as well as the modern American political culture. And the force that would need to be used, would need to be as great, or greater, than the diversion of ideals, which is to say, it must in this particular case be very significant and applied for a very long time as left to their own devices, Iraqis are likely to re-create an Islamic state similar to that of Iran.

Here is what has led us astray: we think that if certain things are good (and we Americans think that our political and social ideals are good), it would be easy to impose them. This is an illusion that is dispelled by reality everywhere we look, and yet we continue to cling to it and, what’s more, base our foreign policy on it. Let me just list a few examples:

American football is good, and yet, banning soccer and imposing American football in its stead will be met with armed resistance everywhere in Europe and Latin America.

Ham is good, and yet imposing it in Israel will cause a significant percentage of Israelis to fight to the death.

Mozart wrote the very best music, and yet, it is not even carried by most music stores.

Obesity is unattractive and bad for your health, but do people always do what’s best for them?

So, what do we want to establish in Iraq: a democracy that would genuinely reflect views and aspirations of a majority of actual Iraqis or something entirely different? It is heartwarming to picture a typical Iraqi citizen saying, “I will vote for Ayad Allawi, a fluent English speaker and a secular Iraqi Shiite that he is, because, quite frankly, our religion and culture stink, so pass me this ham sandwich, please, and let’s watch those Atlanta Falcons.” And yet, it is quite likely, that a great majority of Iraqis, for reasons that may not seem convincing to us but do convince them, have very different preferences.

One thing is democracy for Iraq, and another is establishing in Iraq a dictatorship of a secular version of Judeo-Christian values of advanced western democracies of the 21st century, backed, as it is, by an overwhelming occupying military force. Definition I used, “a dictatorship of a secular version of Judeo-Christian values of advanced western democracies of the 21st century” is formulated with precision. We do not give them any quarter here: This is not a culture of the Spanish Inquisition, where you could torture, or Hitler’s Germany where you could hate and kill: the Iraqis are required to exit the Time Machine precisely at the American year 2005. It seems a bit too much to ask.

I once overheard one construction worker saying to another, “Excuse me, but you have just put a nail right through my hand. As it is a bit uncomfortable, would you mind not doing so in the future?” Most people understand that a real construction worker would use a different set of words in this particular instance, so that simply must be a joke. They know that in this situation construction workers would swear at each other and possibly even fight. And yet, these very people would accept a notion of fair elections and an instant democracy in Iraq.

Again, there was the time when majority of good Americans genuinely felt that owning slaves was fine. It is a huge mistake to assume that should people be allowed to express their wishes freely, their wishes will be good: their wishes correspond to their level of political culture. They may cook great mutton dishes, but that should not mislead us into thinking that politically they are equally advanced.

Now we know what we are taking about here. “Democracy” that we bring is a free expression of people’s aspirations provided that people aspire to free market economy, gender equality, and unrequited love of America. In other words, in Iraq, people can vote for any candidate, as long as he is Ayad Allawi.

What do we want really want to impose, a democracy or a dictatorship? Suppose there is an Absolute Dictator, an oppressor, who has a certain image of how his people should live. Should he be dislodged and democracy established? Before we answer that, we must consider that many people suppress their bad inclinations only because they fear punishment. What happens if such people gain freedom? The correct answer is that a dictator should be dislodged only if his aspirations for his people are worse than those of the people themselves. A parent should brutally suppress his toddler’s attempts to start a fire, but should not suppress his attempts to draw a Christmas Tree.

And that means that liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein was only beneficial if it could be conclusively proven that his idea of how the Iraqi people should live was worse that the idea of the Iraqis themselves as to how they should live. The point is we have not seen such a comparative study.

As far as the West European standard, Saddam was not good enough. But he was not ruling the British. He was ruling the Iraqis who could, conceivably, have been even worse without him. It is not enough to say that Augusto Pinochet was “bad”: the question should be, “Was he worse than Salvador Allende whom he deposed, was he worse than the Chilean Communist Party that he destroyed, was his idea for Chile worse than the idea of the majority of the Chilean people at the time?”

Same in Iraq. Iraqi people may (or may not) exhibit such characteristics that could force us to conclude that the will of Saddam was milder than the freely expressed will of the Iraqi majority. Should this be the case, we need to rephrase the objective: we are not in Iraq to establish a democracy, but to impose an even stronger and more repressive dictatorship, albeit a dictatorship of good over evil. A hard task, and a task that presupposes that we happen to know what is good for the Iraqis. No wonder they call us the Crusaders.

This is not to say that people do not deserve freedom and that further crusades should not be attempted. Certainly, such regimes as those in Cuba, North Korea, or Belarus must be swept away: they truly are an affront to all of us. President Bush is right in implying that failing to rescue is a genuine sin and ignores a potential danger to our own well-being. But to do something successfully, we need to do it right and not mix-up goals and meanings as we did in Iraq.

There are perfectly valid reasons for rejecting something that is unquestionably good:

One may have a conflicting version of good (a cake is good, but not if you are on the diet) and one can simply be developmentally unready (when my six year old rejects my suggestions, at some level I need to accept it and let her develop at her own pace).

Another very important consideration is religion. Bush seems to suggest that God wrote the Bill of Rights and indeed directs his entire political agenda, but it is not exactly the case. What we have here is a very modern, very secular, and very selective interpretation of the religious texts. But Islam has not had its Martin Luther yet, and may not accept George W. Bush’s application for this position.

What we see unfolding in Iraq is an application of a dangerous ideology developed by Francis Fukuyama in The End of History. Fukuyama suggested that American-style democracy is the future of every society on Earth, and with the demise of Communism this idea avoided being debunked. In reality, there are two major considerations: (a) developing a democracy may take a lot of time and spiritual effort, and (b) American society is not an established ideal: it is ripe with contradictions and continues to evolve.

What is the American society? It may well be the best society on Earth if it represents an unobstructed search for what is good, but it surely will become the worst society on Earth the moment it proclaims that the good has been found. America is a hope of the world if it helps in a search for the good, but would be a scourge the moment it announces that the good has been formulated, manufactured and packaged. A hamburger is a reasonably attractive lunch option, but it is a vomit-inducing abomination as the lunch. And that means that America is good without Fukuyama, but with Fukuyama it’s a threat.

In the horrible dictatorship of North Korea, everyone must wear a pin bearing the likeness of the Great Leader, Kim Il Sung. Similarly, in his inaugural speech Bush proclaimed that the good has been found: it is the year 2005’s version of American liberty, justice, and social development. But the entire world does not have the year 2005 on its watch and not all people watch the CNN to learn the truth. Peoples of the world live on their own time, and have their own way of establishing preferences. When we catch and jail Thomas Jefferson for the crime of owning slaves we may be sorry: what’s more, Mr. Jefferson would resist as he would think himself innocent.

In their commemoration of the Prophet Ali, Iraqi Shiites beat themselves with bunches of bicycle chains until their backs are black and blue. Painful and unhygienic as this ritual may be, it is unreasonable to require that as of tomorrow they modify it into a solemn application of a suntan lotion; even though, if we give them a few decades they just might.

The goal of establishing a democracy in Iraq was not well thought through, and its changes of success, unless we modify our goals and approaches, are minimal. If we continue to wear ideological blinds, the Second Objective we listed, and with it the First one, will not be reached.

To find and destroy weapons of mass destruction.

Now, that is a legitimate reason: Saddam certainly was not good enough to have WMD. But if this was the reason, now that we know he had no WMD, we should be withdrawing, and we are not. That might indicate that a search for WMD was just a pretext for something else. Indeed, my personal story seems to suggest we are not really looking for WMD. Five years ago, I alleged that millions of dollars were being mismanaged by a US program to convert former Soviet producers of WMD. As soon as my confidential letter reached the US Department of State, I was blacklisted for the US assistance positions. As soon as the audit proved that my allegations were valid, my accounts were arrested by the IRS. This story strongly suggests that a “search for WMD” is simply a codeword for enriching politically connected cronies. And that brings us back to the lofty Objective of “bringing democracy to Iraq”: as always, the primary role of grand ideology is to cover up theft and abuse. If you believe in something, be open-minded, personal, and modest about it.

To enhance the security of the United States.

We live in a unipolar world as the collapse of the Soviet Union, followed by the implementation of the economic strategy that we developed for our gullible Russian friends led to the total destruction of the Russian economy and its military might. Since there is no one to oppose us, occupation of Iraq makes perfect military sense. Iraq is a potentially rich and a strategically located country whose occupation would have a profound affect on our adversaries in the region, Syria and Iran. But to perform an occupation under the guise of liberation may prove difficult and/or too expensive for the benefits gained. It is unwise to start a war unless you are going to win it, and we are not succeeding as an occupying power. We will certainly not succeed if we allow to cast ourselves as “crusaders” taking on the entire Islamic world.

To turn Iraq into the US colony to control Iraqi resources.

From that, follows another possible objective: maybe the United States need a colony, similar to British Empire’s African possessions? There is a big problem with that, and it is that one cannot achieve an objective unless one is open, at least with oneself, that this is indeed the objective. Colonization starts by assigning low value to the ingenious people and their culture. On one hand, we have not done so, but on the other hand, we have done exactly that by demanding that they drop everything and become tolerant and equality-loving democrats. What kind of a colony it is if we are spending so much money there, aiming million dollar missiles at every barefoot insurgent? If it is a colony, we should assign equally low value humans, Hondurans and the like, to police duty and sit back reaping the benefits. If that was the hidden agenda, we should behave accordingly or else we are going to be tripped up by our own tall tales, exactly as it happened to the Soviets.

To enrich Halliburton and other weapons producers.

This is the only objective, out of those listed that is being achieved without suffering from any internal contradictions or setbacks. Here, the results are glorious, with more successes to come. This may or may not mean that this was the main objective. Half-baked and hastily put together “reasons” are often used to cover up for something that is very straightforward, but inconvenient to reveal.

Other possible objectives.

There may be some. One that comes to mind is to completely deflect the attention of the American public from the US domestic agenda.

* * *

Well, we could have avoided many mistakes if we had a better definition of democracy and were more historically-minded. In the next four years, I would personally love to see Cuba and North Korea liberated: these two countries are sort of an unfinished business of ours. But I hesitate to entrust this task to ignorant ideologues, who foam at the mouth as they speak.

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