February 28, 2005

Democracy's Growing Fan Club

There's a lot of good news in the world right now for democracy. While of course it's never all good, there's a lot of recent stuff to be happy about.

Ukraine: The Orange Revolution, which made a big splash in the media, used many weeks of protests against questionable election results to get a pro-democracy, Western-oriented reformist into office. This is a sign of changing trends in the Ukraine, which has a large slavophile/russophile contingent with little sympathy for Western-style liberal democracy (and whose members often speak Russian instead of their native Ukrainian).

Iraq: Obvious. Removing a violent dictator that sends money to suicide bombers and gives aid and shelter to terror groups, then replacing him with a democratically-elected, multi-partisan, multi-sectarian democracy is a darned good thing. I'd say Iraq and to a lesser extent the Ukraine have really helped pushed the way for further democratization in the Middle East.

Lebanon: Two weeks of protesting that seemed reminiscent of the Orange Revolution culminated in the resignation of the Lebanese puppet cabinet supported by the Syrians. Protest not directed against imperialism or Judaism is relatively rare in the Middle East (though certainly not unheard of, considering the pathetic state of so many Arab governments) and the success of this attempt suggests we might see protests becoming more and more common in oppressed Muslim-dominated countries (hint hint, Iran).

Saudi Arabia: Although a very small step for one of the most oppressive states in the world today (and one of the most oppressive US allies ever), the Saudis held small elections for some local offices. Women were not allowed to vote, although they may be allowed to do so in the next election. The elections aren't going to do much in the way of power-brokering or policy-making in the country, but it is the first time representatives elected by Saudis will be included in the government there.

Egypt: President Mubarak is looking at an amendment to allow multi-candidate presidential elections next time around, and Condi Rice canceled a visit to Egypt in protest of a political dissident being arrested here. Multi-candidate elections in Egypt is only really relevant if the elections are free and fair, since the legislative elections also have had three competing parties for years (it's just that the threat of arrest keeps them from suggesting any major change, and it's assured that the winners will follow the President, since they have little power not to do so). Egyptian democracy is perhaps the most important of these five examples - a) Egypt has a large population, b) Egypt is a central state, geographically and culturally, to Muslim and Arab culture, c) a lot of terrorists come from Egypt, and therefore a good amount of terrorist-creation would be eliminated with a transition to Egyptian democracy.

WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN NOW:

Russia: Putin has to allow free press and free speech in Russia, free Khodorovsky (or at least put him on trial) and publicly acknowledge his commitment to democracy without being recently forced to do so. The next elections there also have to be fully free and fair.

Iran: They need to eliminate the Guardians Council, the source of most regressive and reactionary politics in the country and the body responsible for eliminating reformist candidates for the Majlis (Parliament). The Guardians Council is clerics and Islamic lawyers with the responsibility to make sure all Iranian state acts jive with Islamic law (and traditions). They need to be out on their asses. Iran is a pseudo-democracy, but it is not free. The people have decent enough elections; it's just that the candidates are heavily screened. Iran needs street protests on holding a referendum to eliminate the Guardians Council and hold a new constitutional convention. I'd also say that US military action must be ruled out except in the most dire of circumstances - Iran has a strong rebellious domestic contingent that loves the US for our freedom and for our NOT being the clerics. If we were to attack Iran, we could more or less count on losing all sympathy from these Western- and US-oriented reformers.

Gulf States: Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE and Qatar should all be pushed to hold free and fair elections and to become fully constitutional monarchies (or even constitutional republics). Kuwait is the closest to this already, even though their Parliament has been shut down several times, since that country has more of a political culture involving some measure of dissent. Kuwait is also affluent, educated and has the closest thing to a middle class - as well as heightened access to foreign and free media - and of course they have an abiding sympathy for the US since we saved them from Saddam in 1991. Kuwait and the other rich Gulf states (not all the states in the Persian Gulf have oil) should be strongly encouraged to enact democratic reforms, including free and fair elections. Free Trade Agreements should be the huge carrot here, and the specifics of a US-Bahrain FTA have already been worked out. We should not do FTAs with the Gulf states until they have at least one, if not two or three, successful elections that are free and fair.

North Africa: If the European Union ever does get on-board with democracy promotion for real, then they could be of some assistance with North Africa. The colonial connection is always a strange one, with a weird love-hate theme. The EU in general could help with regard to Libya, which has already made some tremendously important moves toward ending military confrontation but not so much toward ending political repression. Qadafi's moves to normalize relations with the West could definitely be used to encourage a broader move toward democracy. Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria each have stronger current connections to France (at least linguistically) than other European countries. If Chirac wanted to steal some of Bush's thunder (or alternately, help out the West or the US in democracy promotion) then he could lead the efforts for Mahgreb democracy. It would also be a surefire path to proving French power and relevance in foreign affairs, which is probably the most convincing reason for them to do it.

Syria: Still one of the most dangerous states in the world, Syria supports lots of terrorists and violence - in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Israel. The Syrian government is in desperate need of a swift kick to the pants, but it would probably be better to let them stew. We should start putting serious efforts on Syria, and make them one of the top monetary priorities for democracy promotion - everything from Arabic-language radio programming (Radio Free Syria) to funding their democratic opposition groups (rhetoric only, no militants). Otherwise, we need to let Syria stew a while. We need European pressure on them, but frankly I don't expect much from most EU countries on this front. Syria needs to boil a little and allow the democrats there to try and press the political case for reform. The US is too likely to cause automatic opposition there, so we shouldn't overwork the Syrians directly. After a year or two of helping the opposition there, our rhetoric needs to get bigger. Hopefully then the Iraqis, the Lebanese and some of the various Gulf state politicians will have nascent democratic credentials and can urge the government to accept a more accountable, representative government. I'd also recommend that the Syrian Reform Party and others start holding street protests and the like, because there's no reason why internal pressure shouldn't start right now.

Burma, North Korea, China and other Asian authoritarian states: The Asian tyrants need to loosen their grip. North Korea is far too hot and Kim far too crazy for us to push democracy right now. It's also entirely too poor and desperate for the population there to give a damn about elections. We need to solve the other problems there first. China has already held some minor local elections that have no real bearing on anything. They should be pressured to legalize opposition parties and allow openly-contested elections of delegates to a major constitutional convention. They also need to figure out autonomy and independence for the various regions, especially Tibet and the Uighur Autonomous Region. Hong Kong residents could be a big help here, if the democratic culture survives there. Burma is probably the most tyrannical country in the world, and needs drastic action. For both China and Burma, the US needs to ask Australia and Japan to take the lead, the UK to take second fiddle, and let the US be the big, bad cop in the background in case the preliminary negotiations fail.

Venezuela: Trendy Che t-shirts aside, Huge Chavez is not a democrat. He led two different failed coup attempts in the early 1990s, and he has overseen large expansions of state control over society and economy - including expropriations of land greater than the total area of Belgium. He is a populist, anti-Western demagogue and he has provoked protests from professional, labor and guild groups in Colombia. Massive protests have not replaced him or made him step down. Venezuela should hold new elections and allow in observers to make sure they are free and fair. In conjunction with the Organization of America States, the leaders of Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia and Brazil (especially Lula in Brazil) should encourage Chavez to accept democratic limits and simply hold a new election. Venezuela has a relatively strong democratic tradition by Latin America's standards, though it is not without its blemishes. Its previous blemish was a military tyrant, subsequently replaced by an elected system - and that ex-tyrant was invited by Hugo Chavez to sit in a place of honor at his inauguration. He also enjoyed meeting with other tyrants - notably Saddam and Castro.

Cuba: Castro will die soon. As soon as he does, we move in with a simple offer to completely end the embargo and all its restrictions if the new regime is determined through free and fair elections. If somebody wanted to end it before Castro dies, my best suggestion is to either partially or totally end the embargo and start more or less exporting political upstarts to the island – at least some of them American citizens without Cuban descent – that would get Castro in deep trouble to jail. Have them disseminate democratic literature and organize non-violent street protests for elections (which was Castro's rallying point in the 1950s against Batista).

Haiti: This one is a stumper. The key is to build up the economy and to rebuild the physical geography of the island. The mudslides there destroy so much life and economy that democracy is far away. Rebuilding the physical island is a precursor to economic success, and economic success is a precursor to democracy. This is a long, slow process and it is much more difficult than other countries. This is a place where aid agencies like Red Cross and others should work, to prepare it for further development and investment from the outside.

Sudan, Zimbabwe, Africa in general: Africa is not looking too great for democracy right now, though Burundi just held elections (it's a lot like Rwanda, only to the south). I know the least about Africa than any other continent (except maybe Antarctica) and Africa is an even worse ground for democratic reforms than Asia. My suggestion is to find democratic allies in or near the region to push the case. Other than South Africa (which suffers credibility loss from extensive white-European connections) this is slow-going. The simplest answer is use South African leadership, be tough with Zimbabwe and show no leniency to genocide in the Sudan. The black-Africans in the southern parts of the Sudan are Christian and animist, so they receive harsh treatment from the Arabs in the northern parts that are Muslim. Getting a whole new country for the Christian/animist Sudanese, if economically viable, could be a springboard for sub-Saharan democracy. Getting Egyptian or Tunisian democracy is not very relevant to democracy in Rwanda or Sierra Leone; black-Sudanese democracy is much more relevant. I think this might be our foot in the door, just as Iraq was democracy's foot into the Middle East's door. Besides which, there's a serious issue of genocide and widespread rape in the Sudan of Muslims against blacks. These people need to be protected from the drawn-out war and genocide of the area. Creating two new states might be a good approach to protect them, and would be a wonderful way to jumpstart the democratic movements in black (sub-Saharan) Africa. Expanding democracy is the best way to prevent further troubles in the region, especially Nigeria and the tumultuous Horn of Africa.

Is this all ambitious? Yes, very - especially trying to jumpstart democracy in Africa while the Middle East is still in the earliest stages of a POTENTIAL democratic revolution. It's likely too ambitious, and certainly will not be attempted. However, it could be attempted with unhesitant assistance from the rest of the world - especially Europe (i.e. France) towards North Africa; Australia and Japan towards Asia; South Africa towards sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil (and Chile/Colombia/Costa Rica) and the OAS towards Cuba and Venezuela; and the entire world towards genocide in the Sudan. It's ambitious, but democracy anywhere supports democracy everywhere. As it advances, democratic values naturally take root. Freedom is infectious because it's both prosperous and invigorating. It naturally enriches and encourages one to do as he wishes, live as he wishes, and think as he wishes - so long as he accepts the same right for others.

Getting democracy to reach across the globe - and not just the whiter, richer parts of it - ought to be the goal of this century. Naturally this is a long process of development, industrialization, liberalization, education and negotiation. Anyone who thinks it will be easy is a fool. Similarly, anyone that thinks democracy is doomed because of one or many ominous signs or dangerous trends is a coward. Freedom is not for the weak, and spreading the values of freedom require an even more courageous constitution. But through a systematic process of economic development, political education, diplomatic pressure and free elections we can see accountable, respectful governance take hold in progressively wider areas across the globe.

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