Few Americans lose sleep when their party doesn't control the White House or Congress. Democrats aren't happy with the re-election of George W. Bush, and who could blame them? But no one with any sense in their head worries about Republican death squads kicking down doors in the night. Liberals won't be frog-marched out of their homes, won't be interned in camps, and certainly won't be machine-gunned into a ditch. It's so easy for us to forget. There are few things less dangerous in the world than losing an election in the United States.
Democracy doesn't entitle 51 percent of the country to lace up their jackboots and stomp on the faces of the 49 who were vanquished. But a deformed illiberal "democracy" could, in theory, mean that. Americans did once worry about the tyranny of majorities. The separation of powers and the establishment of individual rights were put into place as pre-emptive correctives.
We'd be fools, though, if we thought people with no experience with consensual government aren't haunted by fears of elected mobs -- especially in a place like Iraq.
Some are just plain scared to death of democracy. It makes perfect sense if some think it's a zero-sum sucker's game, that what empowers the Shi'ite majority threatens the Sunni Arab minority. (And it had better not come to that, not on our watch.) They figure it's safer to stand against Americans than face a sovereign Iraqi Shi'ite-majority government with a memory of history and a chip on its shoulder.
They're the biggest potential obstacle to the election's legitimacy. If enough people in the Sunni Triangle boycott the vote as a bloc (it is there that opposition to the coalition's military presence and the interim Iraqi government is fiercest), whatever government does come to power will be limping right from the start. Iraqis don't need a high voter turnout; many of our own elections had turnouts of less than 50 percent. What they need it a broad turnout so the elected government is seen as legitimate everywhere.
We have two seemingly-contradictory tasks on our plate: fight the guerillas and terrorists while at the same time convincing the majority that if the system breaks down, if their constitution doesn't protect them, we will. We're not in Iraq to oppress any minorities. We're their protector of last resort.
Those who wish to martyr themselves should step right on up because we're there to help. But we'd rather help them be free. They must understand: it is so much safer to lose an election that to meet the Marines on the battlefield.
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Excellent column by Michael J. Totten, examining a for-them rational fear of democracy amongst Iraqis.