Saturday, October 08, 2005

Musings on Democracy
Majority rule is not always the answer

We hear a lot about Bush’s determination to aid the spread of democracy. I have to wonder if that is really what he (or we) want. In Iraq the majority could decide to support an aggressively anti-American government. Democracy always carries risks. If democracy is no more than majority rule, Congress could democratically vote to exterminate all people with blue eyes.

What makes our country great is not merely democracy, but the rule of constitutional law. Democracy can easily lead to tyranny without a constitution to protect minority rights. Thus the role of the Supreme Court is crucial. The court is not supposed to reflect public opinion. Indeed if the court is doing its job, the majority will often be unhappy with its rulings. Its role is to protect us from ourselves. If a temporary majority undermines this protection, it will be at the mercy of the next temporary majority.

Not only should the right keep this in mind in the battles over the Supreme Court, but they should also realize the limits of democracy to solve Iraq’s problems without sufficient protection of the rights of the Sunni minority. The LATimes examines the issue of democracy and insurgency in today’s edition:

President Bush repeated that assertion Thursday in a major policy address to the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington. "If the peoples of [the Middle East] are permitted to choose their own destiny and advance by their own energy and by their participation as free men and women," he declared, "then the extremists will be marginalized and the flow of violent radicalism to the rest of the world will slow and eventually end."

Vice President Dick Cheney has put it more succinctly. "I think ... we will, in fact, succeed in getting democracy established in Iraq, and I think when we do, that will be the end of the insurgency," he told CNN in June.
But Middle East experts say they have found little correlation between Iraq's emerging democracy and the strength of the rebellion."The democratic process as it has worked so far has certainly done nothing to undermine the insurgency," said Nathan Brown, who researches Middle East political reform at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

Robert Malley, who co-wrote a September report by the International Crisis Group concluding that approval of the constitution could make things worse, called the administration's Iraq policy "a case study of pinning too much hope on an electoral process without doing so much of the other work."

Success in Iraq "is not about democracy or non-democracy; it's about reaching consensus on a political pact that all parties agree to," said Malley, a former advisor to President Clinton on Arab-Israeli affairs. "If they don't agree, the political process won't help."
Some Iraqis accuse the Bush administration of sacrificing a unifying political process in favor of speed and arbitrary deadlines needed to sustain U.S. public support for the war and justify politically important military draw-downs.

"We're short of time —— it's the fault of the Americans," Kurdish politician Mahmoud Othman said. "They are always insisting on short deadlines. It's as if they're [making] hamburgers and fast food."

Othman added: "If we'd had more time, it would have been possible to get Sunni participation. When Oct. 15 comes, many won't even have seen the constitution."



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