Who defines Iraqi democracy?

The US has entered an era of overt military interventions aiming at regime change and "democratization." The American-led campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq may be followed by others in the Middle East.

Regime change requires the establishment of a military government to eliminate the remnants of the displaced regime and to put in place institutions and political mechanisms that lead to a democratic state.

Successful models of regime change suggest that the process of democratization can itself be less than democratic.

The American occupations of Germany and Japan are models of successful regime change led by military governments established by an invading army. The Office of Military Government US in Germany (OMGUS) and the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers in Japan (SCAP) managed political transitions that involved purging and trial of criminal elements of the previous regimes, reinstating judiciary systems, reestablishing political parties, reorganizing the national economies, and reforming the educational systems and the media.

Democracy was imposed through nondemocratic means. OMGUS and SCAP were autocratic governments that had the monopoly of violence and imposed decisions of the US authorities. The military governments censored, blacklisted and repressed, while presenting to the local population an idealized vision of the American system.

Occupation policies were designed with little or no democratic oversight by US citizens. The military's supremacy had serious political implications and biased the democratization process.

A startling example is the treatment of the issue of race by the US War Department and OMGUS.

Although the Third Reich waged a racial war against European Jews, OMGUS did not single out Jews as main victims of the Nazi genocide. This policy reflected racist undercurrents in the ideology of much of the US military establishment at the time. When, in 1947, labor leader Walter P. Reuther proposed to show "The Brotherhood of Man," an anti-racist educational cartoon, in postwar Germany and Austria, the civil affairs division of the War Department objected.

The argument used to veto the film was that the concept of racial equality was false. The debate surrounding the film, and involving even the Truman White House, was classified as secret until the 1980s. The discussions it generated did not reach the press, although the issue of racism was central to defining the American democratization project in postwar Germany.

War Department planners, under the cover of military secrecy and security, imposed their own beliefs of race inequality. The postwar German experience suggests that the military establishment, far from behaving as a politically neutral executor of government orders, was an unaccountable political machine that designed policy without democratic oversight.

US plans for postwar Iraq are shrouded in secrecy. The White House, the Pentagon, and retired Gen. Jay Garner, who will oversee reconstruction of Iraq, have revealed little detail. Statements about "humanitarian relief" and "Iraqi self-government" released by government officials obscure central political issues that the US government and the military planners are addressing in private. This, itself, is essentially a deficit in democracy.

There's much to change in Iraq, but what to do - and how - is far from obvious. The Baathist national-socialist regime of Iraq has a history of genocide. It waged extermination campaigns against Iraqi Shiites, Iranians, and Kurds; displaced Iraqi Jews from the country; and indoctrinated Iraqis in anti-Semitism.

What will be the content of the reeducation policy to eliminate anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism? Will a new concept of gender equality be introduced into Iraqi society? Or does "democratization" entail only political parties and elections? What will be the criteria to define who among Iraqis will participate in the new political process? Will there be a US-led attempt to systematically examine individual behavior during the Hussein regime?

In the German case, the destruction of the Wehrmacht, the SS, and the Nazi Party, and the exclusion of many active Nazis from public life limited the spread of Nazi ideology.

Is it reasonable, then, in Iraq to use members of the former police - known for brutality and corruption - as the "new" police force? Would it be advisable to incorporate former members of the Baathist administration into the transition government?

These issues are undoubtedly being discussed. Yet the majority of Americans aren't privy to the debate. The public need not be informed about operational military secrets relating to postwar security, but it should be informed about the democratization policy. It's too important to be left solely in the hands of the military and their advisers.

Which brings us to another aspect of the deficit in democracy: Why is the US Congress absent from the debate?

Cora Goldstein is assistant professor in the department of political science at California State University, Long Beach.

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