Small-‘d’ Democracy

We tried to write yesterday, but the images were too fresh, too exciting.

We tried to write yesterday, but the images were too fresh, too exciting.

Today, even as the fighting continues, it is worth considering priorities for the coalition and the Iraqi people. There will be a meeting over the weekend of Iraqis from inside and outside the country to begin turning Iraq back over to its own people. Their first priority might well be to avoid a HUGE mistake that the U.S. has made elsewhere (including the Palestinian Authority). We hope they don’t impose a phony “Democracy” based on sham elections, but rather engage in the long-term work of building a “small-‘d’ democracy.”

Small-‘d’ democracy is the ability of citizens freely, secretly, peacefully and safely to choose leaders from among varied candidates and political persuasions, informed in their choices by a free media. Those who run for office agree to serve for a limited and regulated period of time, carry out the laws, submit themselves to the referendum of the voters and leave office if that is what the voters choose. It is heavily dependent on a system of laws and/or cultural mores that empower the citizenry and limit the rulers.

It is hard work; which is why countries with elected dictators are much more common than democratic countries.

It isn’t that some people are inherently “unable” to have democracies. It is more likely true that they don’t have the laws that protect and encourage the free speech, free association, free enterprise and devolution of power that permit the rise of a populace with a stake in a democratic system.

The immediate priority for the U.S.-led Iraq group will, of course, be the restoration of basic services and the imposition of order. But then, rather than “choosing” the leaders of Iraq, or setting up “elections” to “validate” leaders, the group should concentrate its efforts on promulgating two sets of laws.

First would be those limiting the power of whatever government comes next. A Constitution and a Bill of Rights are safeguards for the people. The constitutions Americans wrote for Japan and Germany have served those countries well.

Second would be those creating legal safeguards for protecting property and economic investment to encourage private investment. The UN has empowered dictators around the world, including Saddam, by passing aid and economic investment through them. Iraq is a rich country, but the wealth cannot be concentrated in the hands of the few.

In our view, it would be better to have a somewhat longer and stronger American presence, and a somewhat less immediately powerful Iraqi governing council, to set the stage for long term economic and political gain for the greatest number of Iraqis. Americans are good at small-‘d’ democracy and we shouldn’t overlook our own success at building a nation “of the people, by the people and for the people” from disparate elements that often didn’t know anything about democracy before they got here.