Impose vs. develop democracy

After Saddam Hussein, what? The question takes on a new pertinence now that President Bush has his license from Congress to use force. He has promised to help create the institutions of liberty in a unified Iraq. But the Iraqis, who have been ruled by a succession of tyrants since the British installed a king in 1921, don't know much about liberty.

Until recently, the Bush administration had been divided about what a post-Saddam governing authority should look like. The Pentagon was working on a plan for seizing a piece of territory before or during an invasion and installing exiled groups as an interim government.

It is far from clear, however, that exiles returning from the diaspora would be welcomed by the long-repressed people. I remember post-World War II in Europe where people who had suffered during the Nazi occupation did not warm to returning exiles who had not shared their experience. King Leopold III returned to Belgium only to be forced by a general strike to abdicate. Prime Minister Pieter Gerbrandy returned to the Netherlands only to be voted out in the first post-war election. Putting quarreling exile factions in charge, which was a problem in Afghanistan, does not seem like a promising start on democracy in Iraq.

In the State Department, a concept circulated for a while of a United Nations authority backed by an American military force assisted by a council representing both exiles and Iraqis from within the country.

Lately the White House seems to be considering an occupation model, drawn from the precedents of Germany and Japan after World War II. This would provide for a straight-out American military government headed by an American general, a Douglas MacArthur type. An American occupation government would, it is believed, facilitate the search for weapons of mass destruction. It would also, incidentally, put America in control of the world's second biggest oil reserves.

At some future time, perhaps years, an election would be organized and a democratic government created. It seems clear that democracy cannot simply be imposed on a country that has never known democracy. It will have to be developed from within, like a delicate hothouse plant.

• Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.