President Bush keeps mentioning Japan and his buddy-buddy relationship with Junichiro Koizumi at press conferences as well as the fact that Japan is a stunning example of evil foe turned into fast friend and robust democracy.
I don’t think that George Bush has the foggiest idea how Japan became democratic, and our role in that process was questionable in my view. In fact, the United States saw to it that the first prime ministerial victor after the first democratic elections in Japan was purged on the eve of his ascension. This was the brilliant Ichiro Hatoyama who founded and built the Liberal Party in Japan and later merged it with the Democratic Party in 1955. Both parties were conservative — and founded the long-time ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Instead of letting Hatoyama ascend to the PM position, some in Douglas MacArthur’s world feared he was too leftist, and others thought that he was a closet right-winger. He was, in fact, a ‘radical centrist.’
America, instead, had installed a bureaucrat — Shigeru Yoshida. This was not democracy.
But we did get some things right, and some of the people who helped lead the charge on democratization and demilitarization of Japan deserve to be remembered well for their accomplishments. One of these was Charles Kades, who headed the Government Section team drafting Japan’s Constitution — which while problematic — has stood as Japan’s organizing law for nearly sixty years.
America had no such supreme authority in Iraq — despite L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer’s best efforts — but the one guy who comes close to being the Charles Kades of Iraq, kind of a less-naieve but equally dashing 21st century version of Lawrence of Arabia is Noah Feldman who worked as a member of Bremer’s staff with all of the contending parties in the Iraqi Governing Council to hammer out a ‘constitutional road map.’
Feldman believes that democracy can be rooted, or root itself, in the Middle East but does not excoriate or scoff at critics whose realism compels them to be skeptical of that ideal. He is a believer, but he knows that the path to a stable democratic order is treacherous.
I think Feldman’s Financial Times piece yesterday is a fair accounting of the elections in Iraq — what went right, what went wrong, and what problems still lie ahead. It’s exactly the kind of cautionary brief that I hope the President’s screeners let him read.
Here are the first few grafs:
The Iraqis who braved violence to vote on Sunday in the country’s first free election in 50 years were, like voters everywhere, expressing democratic belief in ownership over their political future. Many also believed, in accordance with the teaching of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the moderate Iraqi Shia leader, that voting was a religious obligation. If, as seems likely, the Shia parties associated with Mr Sistani have taken a substantial majority, elected officials who describe themselves as Islamic democrats will, for the first time, actually get the opportunity to govern after taking office.
In Iraq, the convergence of Islam and democratic values is a development of huge historical importance. Although Islamic parties won elections in Algeria in 1991, they were stymied by the secular regime that cancelled them after the fact. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development party has an Islamic character but, under Turkey’s secular constitution, must disclaim its religious orientation. In Afghanistan, the constitution enshrines Islam, but Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has stressed secular themes in his attempt to manage the country’s war lords-turned-politicians and create a meaningful central government. Iraq now stands as the latest test of whether and how Islam and democracy can co-exist.
Many headlines in the wake of Sunday’s poll have focused, rightly, on the continuing question of basic security. Nearly 40 Iraqis died as a result of violence on election day, and security remains the dominant issue on the Iraqi scene. Although voters turned out in large numbers in Iraqi Kurdistan and Baghdad, insurgent violence, coupled with a substantial Sunni boycott, seems to have ensured that the impressive final turn-out in the election nonetheless does not reflect an accurate demographic cross-section of the Iraqi population. As a result, although Kurds and Shia may consider the election legitimises the 275-member National Assembly that has now been selected, many Sunni Arabs will not see it the same way. Their disenfranchisement, though largely self-inflicted, now stands as the greatest challenge to the creation of stable and peaceful government in Iraq and the eventual withdrawal of significant numbers of US and UK forces.
Noah Feldman articulates quite bluntly what a successful democratic outcome will require:
What Iraq needs is a constitution that not only specifies individual rights and reconciles democratic principles with an official role for Islam, but that will also function as a kind of peace treaty, guaranteeing the Sunni minority – accustomed to running Iraq under Saddam Hussein and before – a real role in shaping the country’s future. For this to happen, the Sunnis must have representation in the negotiations over the shape of the constitution, despite their absence in large numbers from the National Assembly. Not only that, a significant number of Sunnis must be prepared to stop supporting the insurgency and swing their support behind a political resolution.
Achieving this will not be easy. The substance of the guarantees is easy to imagine. Sunnis will want a guarantee of equal distribution of resources, such as currently exists in Iraq’s Transitional Administrative Law. They will want an amnesty for insurgents, something that would almost certainly be granted at this stage.
I am not as confident as Feldman that the U.S. can be the primary change-agent and mentor of democracy that he suggests here:
The next six months, then, will amount to the toughest test that can be faced by any government of any kind, Islamic or otherwise: the creation of order out of disorder, and of broad legitimacy out of support that is today only partial.
The odds against success are daunting. But the alternative to a federal, power-sharing Islamic democracy in Iraq is no longer old-fashioned military dictatorship: it is chaos. The US and all its allies involved in Iraq owe it to those who will form the new government to give them all the assistance they can.
But I do feel that Feldman gets the stakes right — and it will be incumbent on Europeans to think more entrepreneurially about the role that they might play to prevent Feldman’s worst concerns from becoming reality.
That would further American and European interests — and will ultimately be good for Iraq.
— Steve Clemons