Monday, July 02, 2007

Democracy vs. freedom: A Middle Eastern case study

"Democracy is freedom!" Well, no it isn't.

There's much confusion abroad about structures of government, and too little understanding of the difference between democracy and constitutional government.

Many people mistakenly believe that democracy is synonymous with freedom, so if you're saddled with that delusion yourself then you're not alone. It isn't. As Bill Weddell used to say, democracy is not freedom, it is simply the counting of heads regardless of content. And as Yaron Brook points out in The Forward Strategy for Failure, democratic elections across the Middle East that seemed to promise so much have demonstrated instead that the result of counting empty heads will often deliver the opposite of freedom. It's a lesson that we should all ponder.
Iraq has had not just one, but several popular elections, as well as a referendum on a new constitution written by Iraqi leaders; with U.S. endorsement and prompting, the Palestinians held what international monitors declared were fair elections; and Egypt’s authoritarian regime, under pressure from Washington, allowed the first contested parliamentary elections in more than a decade. Elections were held as well in Lebanon (parliamentary) and Saudi Arabia (municipal). In sum, these developments seemed to indicate a salutary political awakening. The forward march toward “liberty in other nations” seemed irresistible ...
It all looked so promising, didn't it, and - let's face it - we all got excited at the sight of so many so eager to vote in places for which any idea of free and fair elections seemed just a few years ago so unbelievable. I confess, I did too. The Bush Administration's "forward strategy for freedom" seemed to be working, it seemed to be worthy of celebration - but the strategy had and has a fatal flaw. It was and is based solely on the introduction of democracy, and democracy is no guarantee of freedom. A majority can just as easily to vote away its own freedoms and those of minorities as it will to have them protected. Recent history offers no exception. "Has the democracy crusade moved us toward peace and freedom in the Middle East—and greater security at home?" asks Brook. Answer, NO! Emphatically not.
The elections in Iraq were touted as an outstanding success for America, but the new Iraqi government is far from friendly. It is dominated by a Shiite alliance led by the Islamic Daawa Party and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)... Teheran is thought to have a firm grip on the levers of power within Iraq’s government, and it actively arms and funds anti-American insurgents. The fundamental principle of Iraq’s new constitution—as of Iran’s totalitarian regime—is that Islam is inviolable. Instead of embracing pro-Western leaders, Iraqis have made a vicious Islamic warlord, Moqtada al-Sadr, one of the most powerful men in Iraqi politics...
How about the elections in the Palestinian territories, then? Any more success there?
For years, Bush had asked Palestinians “to elect new leaders, . . . not compromised by terror.” And, finally, in the U.S.-endorsed elections of January 2006, the Palestinians did turn their backs on the cronies of Yasser Arafat; they rejected the incumbent leadership of Fatah—and elected the even more militant killers of Hamas: an Islamist group notorious for suicide bombings. Hamas won by a landslide and now rules the Palestinian territories. Refusing to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, Hamas is committed to annihilating that state and establishing a totalitarian Islamic regime.
Since writing that, as you probably know, Palestine has collapsed in what is essentially a civil war between Fatah and Hamas, with the price of war being paid in Palestinian bodies and an increased threat to the territories' neighbours, rather than a reduced one. No increase in freedom here either, then, or security.

How about Lebanon, where great hopes were held for a rebirth in peace and freedom after elections that followed the drumming out of Syrian-controlled puppets? Sadly, the results there offer little cause for hope either.
Hezbollah took part in the U.S.-endorsed elections in Lebanon, formed part of that country’s cabinet for the first time, and won control of two ministries.11 In the summer of 2006, the Iranian-backed Hamas and Hezbollah killed and kidnapped Israeli soldiers—and precipitated a month-long war in the region. Since the ceasefire that ended the war, Hezbollah has continued to amass weapons and foment terrorism, emboldened by its popular electoral support.
So no success with recent democracies in Iraq, Lebanon or the Palestinian territories then - majorities have simply voted in totalitarians and killers who've acted to snuff out whatever shoots of freedom that we all fervently believed were beginning to appear.

Perhaps elections in Egypt provide more hope? Sadly, the biggest beneficiary of the 2005 election was the Muslim Brotherhood, which as Brook points out represent "the intellectual origin of the Islamist movement, whose offshoots include Hamas and parts of Al Qaeda. The Brotherhood’s founding credo is 'Allah is our goal; the Koran is our constitution; the Prophet is our leader; Struggle is our way; and death in the path of Allah is our highest aspiration'” !

It seems that the "forward strategy of freedom" of implementing democracy in the Middle East is an abject failure - a failure made inevitable by the pathetic faith in democracy to deliver that freedom. As Brook summarises, what democracy in the Middle East actually delivered was the very opposite of freedom: it delivered more power to those enemies of freedom that the Bush strategy was supposed to snuff out.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Lebanese Hezbollah, the Islamist regime in Iran, the Mahdi Army, Al Qaeda—these are all part of an ideological movement: Islamic Totalitarianism. Although differing on some details and in tactics, all of these groups share the movement’s basic goal of enslaving the entire Middle East, and then the rest of the world, under a totalitarian regime ruled by Islamic law.

The totalitarians will use any means to achieve their goal—terrorism, if it proves effective; all-out war, if they can win; and politics, if it can bring them power over whole countries.

Bush’s forward strategy has helped usher in a new era in the Middle East: By its promotion of elections, it has paved the road for Islamists to grab political power and to ease into office with the air of legitimacy and without the cost of bombs or bullets. Naturally, totalitarians across the region are encouraged. They exhibit a renewed sense of confidence. The Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah war against Israel last summer is one major symptom of that confidence; another is Iran’s naked belligerence through insurgent proxies in Iraq, and its righteously defiant pursuit of nuclear technology.

The situation in the Middle East is worse for America today than it was in the wake of 9/11...

And worse too for the Middle East. Without a culture that values freedom and a constitutional structure that protects life and liberty, any nascent democracy is simply a hostage to whatever outrageous fortunes may sweep across a country, just as they did in the Weimar Germany of the 1930s. It seems clear enough that democracy alone is not enough to either preserve or introduce liberty and freedom, and it now seems abundantly clear that the strategists of the Bush Administration are entirely ignorant of that point - but it's also clear that they're not alone in that ignorance.

Americans themselves will mostly tell you they live in a democracy, but in saying that they'd be wrong. The model of government introduced to America by its founding fathers was the most successful historic example of constitutional protections of liberty. America is not a democracy, it's a constitutional republic. For nearly one-hundred and fifty years the constitution introduced by the founding fathers and the enlightenment culture derived largely from sixteenth-century Britain provided the best protector for freedom the world in all its dark history had yet seen. It was a model introduced successfully in part to Japan after WWII, but all too sadly forgotten in the recent Middle East forays.

No matter what you've heard, and no matter how many American strategists insist upon it, America's model of government is not a democracy. In fact, the founding fathers were assiduous in protecting liberty from the threat of unlimited majority rule that democracy delivers. What they did was put the things of importance beyond the vote, delivering to the world not a democracy but a constitutional republic. (Yes, I've repeated the point. It bears repeating.) The system of checks and balances of the United States Constitution was described by Ayn Rand as "the great American achievement." It is an achievement richly deserving of study, and (with some few modifications) of emulating.

A nice summary of the workings of that successful Constitution is provided by a new course offered by the Ayn Rand Institute:

A Constitution is "[t]he system or body of fundamental principles according to
which a nation, state, or body politic is constituted and governed."

Paraphrasing Ayn Rand, a proper government protects men from criminals and
foreign invaders and provides for the settlement of disputes according to objective laws. A government, therefore, does three things: it makes laws (the legislative function), enforces them (the executive function) and runs law courts (the judicial function).

The United States Constitution divides these functions into separate departments; this is the doctrine of separation of powers. It also divides governmental powers between the state and federal governments by enumerating the powers of the latter and by specific limitations on both. Thus, both the federal and the state governments have sufficient powers to secure rights and are limited in their ability to violate them.

Simple but effective. Not democracy then but constitutional government - a constitution protecting essential liberties through a government constrained only to those protections. It's a model that failed states and would-be freedom fighters around the world would do well to understand and to emulate, as should those who unthinkingly parrot the idea that democracy alone is a saviour.

It's not.

UPDATE: All that said, sometimes the results of elections can surprise you. East Timor's President Jose Ramos Horta, voted to the position in May in elections protected by Australian and NZ troops, has just "unveiled his plans to use his new position to push for a largely tax-free East Timor. Dr Ramos Horta says he wants to base the country's economy on a tax-free Hong Kong model." See ABC: Ramos Horta pushes for tax-free East Timor.

I confess, I'm flabbergasted. That will surely leave Helen Clark and Keith Locke wondering whether they've backed the right horse; and as a colleague of mine says, once tax-free status is confirmed NZ troops should be home by lunchtime.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Sus said...

Tax-free? Can't have that! It might just be 'sustainable' - and how would that look?

:)

7/02/2007 01:36:00 pm  
Anonymous James Gribble said...

A foreign policy post I agree with. Newsweek editor, Fareed Zakaria, made the point in 2002 that the American focus on democracy has given us iliberal regimes and that elections have failed to deliver liberty.
His book 'Future of Freedom' ought to be widely read.

7/02/2007 07:35:00 pm  
Anonymous george said...

It would follow if the majority voted for an organisation such as Hamas, that if Hamas launched rockets, exploded bombs etc, then the whole country is corporately liable for the consequences.

i.e. No more bleating about collateral damage and civilian casualties when Israel retaliates

7/02/2007 10:29:00 pm  
Anonymous James said...

I would love to see the looks on the Lefties faces like Locke and sibling Marie Leadbetter if that happened....how betrayed would they feel? ;-)

7/02/2007 10:42:00 pm  

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