President Bush has painted boldly his desire to be the Johnny Appleseed of democracy throughout the world and it’s an ambitious goal. Hard to argue with the ambition, but plans are one thing and implementation quite another.
Democracy is a process rather than a door opened to those who are shut out. Democracy means a continuing dialog with the governed that our own country has struggled with since its inception two hundred, twenty-nine years ago. It can’t be delivered like independence.
Independence can be fought for and won or given at the stroke of a pen by colonial powers. But either way, history bears witness to how seldom democracy delivers the goods and how often the experiment evolves into dictatorship. Dictatorship is the last grasp of idealism foundering on the rocky shoals of establishing democracy. It’s always out there under the surface, a malevolent force to be reckoned with, a greed ready to assert itself.
Democracy is more agony than celebration and revolutions have the need to celebrate. Society in revolution has for the most part already suffered enough agony and the evidence of more to come, as we’re seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan, wears thin when the image itself, that golden ring, is not clear. “What are we doing, where are we going? . . . will someone just get the water and electricity back on and stop the car-bombing.”
Water, electricity and quiet streets are the iron of society. Democracy is highly tempered steel, forged by compromise under heat and pressure and the powerful are disinclined to compromise. Easier and more profitable to take control, to dole out democratic principals as minimally required. The masses can always be bought off by peace. Dwight Eisenhower understood that, saying, "I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it." Democracy is the vision of a few, but peace is a stroll in the evening with one’s family, stopping for ice cream.
Democracy is tangled and muddy, the process like making sausage. New and freshly formed democracies want solutions and progress rather than conferences and compromise. Never easy, the sausage-making is most difficult in countries and cultures that have no history of inquiry. Lands previously controlled by warlords, dictators, gangsters or religious fanatics are particularly barren ground for the cultivation of democracy and Afghanistan and Iraq combine all these elements.
It’s a tough, nearly impossible job and anyone who looked impartially into this part of the world and its history would have known that. Makes me wonder what Dick Cheney was smoking when he predicted Iraqis would greet us with flowers and democracy would prove to be George Tenet’s ‘slam-dunk.’
To America’s credit, a start has been made and only Allah can know what the end result will be. Allah rules in this part of the world and Turkey is the sole example of Islamic democracy. Not much of a track record if you're the odds-maker.
So it’s not been easy and and will not be. Attempting to export democratic ideals always comes up against the power-structure-that-is in the hope of selling the power-structure-that-might-be. If there is an enduring principal that rules humanity it is that men and women will always act in their own best interests.
The best interest of power is power.