Monday, November 27, 2006

Liberty and Death

More suggested reading: an article about democracy in Iraq.

Here's the short version, for those who read nothing but Cliff Notes in college:
Democracy doesn't just happen overnight. Human nature doesn't default to democracy. You can't simply remove an oppressive government and expect democracy to grow like weeds in the compost heap that remains.

Yet, as we all now know, that's precisely what Bush expected to happen in Iraq.

Democracy requires a government with checks and balances. It requires not just the tolerance of free expression, but the power and will to protect those who would express themselves. It requires a respect for rule of law, a forum to debate those laws, and the might to enforce those laws.

Just about all of those things are missing from Iraq.

Instead, Iraq has a culture that celebrates vengeance. If, as a Shiite, you are unwilling to kill three or four random Sunnis (whether that's lighting them on fire, drilling them with holes, burning them with acid, whatever strikes you as appropriate) as retribution for the death of your son, then you are considered a coward. Add a massive power vacuum, radical Islamic terrorists, and meddling foreign countries to this flammable pastiche, and you're unlikely to end up with anything resembling democracy.

So what to do?

It's time to give up on democracy in Iraq, at least temporarily. That country needs order and security more than anything, and the people of Iraq will eagerly trade a few measly freedoms to protect themselves. We need to install a lesser-of-many-evils strongman to restore order. One who will, if nothing else, be fiercely Iraqi, and prevent Iran from turning them into a satellite nation. If he has to oppress the common man a little bit, I guarantee you that's a trade the Iraqi people are willing to make.

Find someone in Iraq who is powerful, someone who will protect American interests in the region as long as we keep sending him money, and put him in power. Nudge him gently to encourage the organic growth of democracy - imposing it externally has never and will never work.

That's why Vladimir Putin has a 70% approval rate, despite the fact that he suppresses political dissent, manipulates the press, and poisons anyone who gets in his way. With the strongman, there is stability and security, and human nature will trade freedom for stability and security every time. He tamed the chaos of post-communist Russia, and the people are more than willing to turn a blind eye to a little oppression in exchange.

Think I'm being condescending towards Iraqis or Russians? Not so fast - I'm painting with a brush much wider. Why do we Americans allow our government to illegally detain accused terrorists, and hold them outside of the Geneva conventions? Why did you vote for a president who legalized torture and authorized warrantless searches of your phone conversations and bank records? How did the architect of the Patriot Act get re-elected?

The answer is simple: because Americans, like Iraqis or Russians or anyone else, look down the barrel of a gun and trade freedom for security faster than you can say "9/11". You did it, the Russians did it, and if we only give the Iraqis a chance, they'll fall into line as well.

Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death! - Patrick Henry


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