Monday, February 26, 2007

The Iraqi Hamilton

The early days of the United States were amazing in many ways, none more so than the line up of personalities that came to the fore just when the new nation needed them. Think of it: a nation of about 3 million people produced Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, John and Martha Adams, John Marshall, Alexander Hamilton and dozens (perhaps hundreds) of lesser but still notable personalities.

Now look at Iraq, with eight times the population of the early United States. Do you see a Washington or Jefferson? Or even a Hamilton?

Where does the difference lie? Part of it is a matter of luck--something that the early American republic had but that Iraq seems to lack.

Much of the distinction lies in history: Americans of the Eighteenth Century grew up in a society where a man could rise from poverty to substance through his wits and a system that rewarded enterprise and intelligence. Today's Iraqis have grown up in a society characterized by violence, tribal structures and ethnic identities, where tribal and familial relationships are vital and the most important characteristic for success has been brutality.

Can Iraq move toward democracy? I'd like to think that it can. But that road will be long, hard, dangerous and likely to fail. The best model for the development of at least a proto-democracy in Iraq is likely to be Turkey, not the United States. Turkey, y0u may recall, developed the beginnings of a democratic system because of a brilliant autocrat, Kemal Ataturk, who decreed that a multi-party parliamentary system would succeed his rule. I am not an expert on Turkish history, but I understand that Ataturk went so far as to say to one politician, "you will be in this political party," and to the next, "you will be in that party," and so on. Not surprisingly, the system he created took a long time to develop into anything approaching what we would call a democracy. There has been military rule, and the armed forces still play a much larger role than is healthy for civil society. The nation is riven by disputes over how to deal with the Armenian genocide and the restive Kurds in its southeastern quarter. (The greatest danger to Iraqi Kurdistan lies not in al Qaeda, but in Turkish secularists.)
And yet, Turkey is the most successful of the traditional Middle Eastern states in moving toward representative government.

Now, how is it that we expect to stay in Iraq long enough for something similar to happen in that country?

No comments: