Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Clan Democracy, Clan Warfare

One of the few views I share with neocons is the premise that the spread of Western style democratic government is a key element of lasting global peace. Because of that belief I also believe that it is critical that we start to understand what democracy means and how it works. That is why I've returned now several times to the problem of democratic government in situations where voting preferences are defined by the electorate's racial/ethnic/religious identities. As Fred Kaplan explains in an excellent column on Bush's foreign policy, the old maxim about democracies not starting wars does not apply to those situations:
Again, does the president really believe this? The main thing Iraqis expressed at the ballot box was that Sunnis wanted Sunnis to rule, Shiites wanted Shiites to rule, and Kurds wanted to secede. The election, inspiring as it was to behold, served as little more than an ethnic census. In the absence of democratic institutions to mediate disputes and legitimize outcomes, it might even have hardened the social, political, and religious conflicts that are now—by the testimony of Bush's own top generals—erupting into civil war.

The emergence of democracy marks the starting point of politics. Politics by nature involves conflicts. A democracy thrives or crumbles on how well it deals with those conflicts. There is nothing inherently civilizing about holding elections—nothing unusual, much less contradictory, about a putatively democratic government embroiled in war, civil war, or chaos.

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