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Dream of democracy in Iraq does not ignore the lessons of history

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Dream of Democracy in Iraq does not Ignore the Lessons of History Tuesday, 1 February 2005

There appears to be a popular but misconceived idea that it is not possible to impose a democracy on a nation-that a working democracy must be internally driven. In most cases, it is true that democracies have arisen due to internal processes, but it completely ignores the spectacular success of a few of the most successful democracies on the planet-democracies that have been imposed from the outside.

The nations of which I speak are Germany, Italy, South Korea and Japan, the last mentioned having no history of democracy at any stage prior to the end of World War 2. There are, however, lessons from the manner in which democracy was imposed that should be heeded in the case of Iraq.

After World War 2, Marshall Plan (an American initiative to provide aid to nations decimated by the war) aid was used in the rebuilding of the shattered economies of the European nation (including Britain, the recipient of the most Marshall Aid), and Japan. The Americans also worked cooperatively with the nationals in order to bring about a positive result. Particularly in Japan (having no democratic tradition), the shape of the democratic institutions, and the manner in which they would operate, were imposed.

The imposition of a constitution and democratic institutions in Iraq is far less onerous than with Japan. Elected Iraqi officials are to determine the shape of Iraq’s democracy. It will not be handed down in similar manner to Japan immediately post World War 2. As such, it would be expected that a locally shaped democracy in Iraq would have a greater chance of success than the externally imposed system that was the case with Japan. Japan, remember, now has a history of 60 years as a solid democracy!

An area where the Americans are not operating as effectively as they could is in their interactions with the local Iraqi citizens. This is an area where the Americans would do well to heed the advice of Australia’s military, which has an outstanding record in this regard; one need only consider the examples of East Timor and the Solomon Islands to see the truth in this. The problem for the Americans is that they have been losing the battle for the “hearts and minds” at the ground level. There is no yearning by the Iraqi’s to go back to someone like Saddam, but a high handed approach at the grassroots has not helped the standing of the Americans in Iraq.

Having noted this negative aspect, it is clear that history clearly demonstrates that it is possible to impose a democracy on a nation. It must be remembered that the Iraqi people had no say in the shape of their nation’s government. With over 60% of eligible Iraqi’s having voted in the elections, it is clear that there is considerable support among Iraqi nationals for having a say in their political destiny.

After elections and the Coalition of the Willing eventually leaving the newly created democracy, it is up to Iraq to decide whether it remains a democracy. Japan and others clearly chose to continue the democratic path, and the lessons of history indicate that there is every possibility that Iraq can do the same