Democracy is No Guarantee of Freedom for Iraq

by | Oct 23, 2004

A free Iraq (or Afghanistan, or Iran for that matter) would not have to exactly duplicate the American system of government, but it would have to duplicate our basic protection of the individual against the majority, i.e., against a democracy.

Here are two good editorials about the type of government that should be established in Iraq. The first is by Robert Tracinski, “Iraqi Freedom” Requires Individual Rights:

“The greatest threat to good government in Iraq is precisely that each tribal and religious faction will demand special favors, that the Shiites in the south will want a Khomeini-style theocracy, or that the Kurds will make a grab for control of the northern oil fields. This kind of political gang warfare between opposing factions is inevitable–so long as the government has the power to dispense such privileges. That is why it is crucial, for example, that the new Iraqi government enforce, not a balance of power between Sunnis and Shiites, but a separation of church and state.”

The second editorial is from Richard Salsman, Turning Iraq Into Another Iran:

“The problem [of democracy] in Iraq is that 60% of the population consists of Shiite Muslims. They are more religious and more anti-American than the other two tribes (Kurd and Sunni) that comprise the population. The Shiites in Iraq are similar to those who run the dictatorial, terror-sponsoring theocracy in Iran. By deposing the Shah of Iran in 1979, the U.S. helped terrorist Shiites take hold of Iran. Will the U.S. now do the same thing in Iraq? It certainly will if it concedes to ‘one-man, one-vote’ in that country – with no constitution protecting individual rights. If that is the result, the U.S. will have wasted its war effort, by allowing an Iran-style government to develop next to Iran.”

How does this compare to the Bush Administration’s policy for Iraq’s future government? Though the headline was encouraging, a Fox News report from April 2003 of last year revealed a mixed message coming from the Administration: Rumsfeld: Iraqis Can Form Own Gov’t, Just Not a Religious One:

Rumsfeld quote: “If you’re suggesting, how would we feel about an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything in the country, the answer is: That isn’t going to happen.”

Powell quote: After giving Pakistan as a positive example of an Islamic state, he asked: “Why … cannot an Islamic form of government that has as its basis the faith of Islam not be democratic?”

Bush quote: “One thing is certain: We will not impose a government on Iraq. We will help that nation build a government of, by and for the Iraqi people.”

These quotes cannot be reconciled. So which one is official policy? Just a few days ago, on October 19, FoxNews reported the following comments by President Bush:

If free and open Iraqi elections lead to the seating of a fundamentalist Islamic government, “I will be disappointed. But democracy is democracy,” Bush said. “If that’s what the people choose, that’s what the people choose.”

Talk about disappointing. Unfortunately this is consistent with past Bush statements that he will not impose a government on the Iraqis. The Bush Administration has not taken the principled approach advocated in the editorials above, which argue that a secular government based on individual rights should be established in Iraq, not a mere democracy.

I think a fundamental mistake in Bush’s prosecution of the war on terrorism is his promotion of “democracy” detached from any specific forms of free governments. Deposing terrorist-sponsoring regimes and establishing free countries in their place is a crucial element of the war on terror, and Bush is to be commended (and supported) for launching a long overdue offensive. But democracy alone will not guarantee a free country.

Objectivist scholar Leonard Peikoff has explained why democracy does not equal freedom (from The Ayn Rand Lexicon, edited by Harry Binswanger):

The American system is not a democracy. It is a constitutional republic. A democracy, if you attach meaning to terms, is a system of unlimited majority rule; the classic example is ancient Athens. And the symbol of it is the fate of Socrates, who was put to death legally, because the majority didn’t like what he was saying, although he had initiated no force and had violated no one’s rights.

Democracy, in short, is a form of collectivism, which denies the individual rights: the majority can do whatever it wants with no restrictions. In principle, the democratic government is all-powerful. Democracy is a totalitarian manifestation; it is not a form of freedom…

The American system is a constitutionally limited republic, restricted to the protection of individual rights. In such a system, majority rule is applicable only to lesser details, such as the selection of certain personnel. But the majority has no say over the basic principles governing the government. It has no power to ask for or gain the infringement of individual rights.

A free Iraq (or Afghanistan, or Iran for that matter) would not have to exactly duplicate the American system of government, but it would have to duplicate our basic protection of the individual against the majority, i.e., against a democracy.

The Bush Doctrine — the doctrine of treating as hostile regimes any states that harbor and sponsor terrorists — is the correct approach to the war on terrorism, even if Bush himself has not consistently followed it. And we know that the worst state sponsors of terrorists and jihad ideology are fundamentalist Islamic states like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

So it would be far more than merely “disappointing” if Iraq becomes a fundamentalist Islamic state. It would be a defeat for us in the war on terror. Yes, there’s a chance that Iraqis will vote for a free country. But if we’re in a war against dictatorships, why leave the creation of one to chance?

In this regard, presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry is no alternative to Bush, for this election is and should be about prosecuting the war on terror. Regular readers will know that we don’t believe Kerry would properly pursue America’s interests in the war. But we also maintain that Bush has made serious compromises. It is because of the importance of the war that we point them out.

Allen Forkum is half of the political cartooning team of Cox and Forkum.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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