Democratization: Indigenous Beats Imported – OpEd


Despite George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s efforts to topple foreign dictators and use military power to forcefully impose democracy from without, democracy usually works better if it bubbles up from below by popular desire.

In Iraq, even before U.S. forces had withdrawn, Shi’ite President Nouri al-Maliki was taking the country back toward dictatorship. Now that American forces are gone, with attempts to arrest the Sunni vice president and the detention of other prominent Sunnis, Maliki is accelerating the process. Meanwhile, the radical Sunni group al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia is stepping up attacks on Shi’ites, hoping to re-ignite the sectarian civil war of 2006 and 2007. With Iraq’s long history of rival ethno-sectarian groups in conflict, Sunni dictators, and no culture of political compromise needed for democracy, the prospects for an imposed democracy taking root were never great.

In Afghanistan, the situation is even worse, because opposition to the U.S.-installed government—by the Taliban—is even stronger, and that government is seen by most Afghans as corrupt and ineffective. Although three attempts by the British and one by the Soviets to bend notoriously independent and ferocious Afghans to an external will failed, the irrepressible arrogance of American foreign policymakers led them to think that the outcome would be different when the United States tried to install democracy there 10 years ago.

Although winning the “hearts and minds” of the local population is the most important objective in any counterinsurgency war, the U.S.-led coalition is so unpopular that even Afghans getting most of the largesse—the Afghan security forces—hate coalition forces so much that the former are killing the latter in record numbers for allies in modern military history. The U.S. military continues to tout gains against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, but the most dangerous insurgency has always been in eastern Afghanistan. Besides, the pattern in many counterinsurgency wars is that the weaker guerrillas give ground when the stronger occupying force is on the offensive. The guerrillas bide their time until the occupier moves elsewhere, then they filter back and wait for the eventual departure of the occupier from the country. Because the United States has willingly obliged the Taliban by announcing that it will turn over security to the Afghan government and withdraw forces in 2014, the Taliban has no incentive to meaningfully negotiate a peace agreement. Like the North Vietnamese, the Taliban has merely “gotten smart” and is pretending to make moves toward negotiations while continuing to outwait the Americans. In the future, the Taliban will likely have a role in governing some or all of Afghanistan.

And it seems that the situation in post-Gadhafi Libya is beginning to unravel. There, an indigenous uprising prompted the West to bomb for successful regime change. But local protesters recently stormed the Benghazi office of the governing National Transitional Council (NTC) while the chief of that rickety government was inside, local militias in the city of Bani Walid revolted against a pro-government militia and are now governing the town, and the weak NTC forces have been unable to disarm factional militias around the country. Like Iraq, Libya has many armed factions and no tradition of democracy. Libya could easily lapse into tribal warfare.

On the other hand, the indigenous democratic revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt seem to be progressing. Tunisia recently had successful elections, and Egypt seated its new parliament and will hold a presidential election in June. In Tunisia, Islamists won the recent election but have paired with more liberal parties to form a coalition government. Although the Egyptian parliament is dominated by Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood, the group that has a plurality in the legislative body, has gone “mainstream” and is cooperating with the military council’s timetable for transition to civilian rule. Although bumps on the road may arise and both of these countries may not have completely Western-style liberal democracies, their prospects for being long-term democracies look much brighter than in the three countries in which outside force was used to remove oppressive regimes.

Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.

3 thoughts on “Democratization: Indigenous Beats Imported – OpEd

  • January 28, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    The ONLY democracy what works is that which “bubbles up from below”.

    In case the USA slites have not noticed that is what is happening with occupy 99% movements; the so called institutional “democracy” of the USA (and others) in the world of the Corporation-states has been found wanting.

    In the age of the college educated proletariat this phenomenum will only increase; the end of the Capitalist Epoch is comimg closer day by day!

  • January 28, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    US is engaged in mindless imposition of puppet rules in Islamic world which is never going to accept US style of governance because it conflicts directly with Sharia jurisprudence and if they don’t go by it would mean denial of Quran, Islam, the revelations of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). Muslims will not be allowed to live with such extrinsic values by the local rulers. One must understand that the roots of Abrahamic religions took start from a medieval bed of bedouins who were basically barbaric class of wild, wandering group of people always warring with each other and their ancient instinct has still persisted in more or less degree. Since the Christianity got its roots in Europeans who to some extent refined themselves and evolved a more tolerant society compared to the Islamic world which remained and retained most of its original bedouin character cannot be
    kept together other than a rule of some thing like Sharia.

    Now coming to its practical applicability in terms of the current Middle East spring, Be it Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Tunisia or Egypt, I am
    skeptical if ultimately there would be any difference except a matter of time.

    Egypt and Tunisia will be no different. Then we have some more like Yemen, Baharain, Syria etc who are other live bombs yet to explode. We may wait for it but I have a feeling that this time bomb is now ripening fast. Wait and see. God bless

  • January 28, 2012 at 11:15 pm

    West claims democracy but none of them have a true democratic secular state despite their claims. They are pretentious to seek from others to adopt such imposed values.

    US claims to have separated the state from church after their 1st amendment but religion doesn’t mean only church. The first aberration lies their. Secondly US has not yet seen any other President than a Christian. Why because they talk of only Church not religion. For them religion is synonymous to Church.

    Most of the powerful world’s media are controlled by the Western society, who is controlled by some form of Christian values, they have to progress a long way to go.


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