Democracy Promotion

DEMOCRACY PROMOTION….Can we bring democracy to Iraq at gunpoint? A couple of academics at New York University recently studied 35 U.S. interventions since World War II and came to the unsurprising conclusion that only once (Columbia in 1989) did a genuine democracy emerge within ten years. Then they say this:

Nor can the problems be blamed on the countries in which we chose to intervene. Although it is true that many of these interventions took place in poor countries where the education level was low and where there was little previous experience with democratic institutions, there is scant evidence to suggest that this is why democracy failed to take hold. In fact, neighboring countries generally experienced more progress toward democracy in the ensuing decade than did the states where the intervention occurred.

When I first read this I had exactly the thought that I’m sure the authors intended: not only did we not bring democracy to these places, but we must have actually done more harm than good. After all, a “control group” of similar neighboring countries that we didn’t intervene in ended up doing better.

But that’s not the only possible conclusion, is it? Perhaps it’s true that the chaos of war inevitably hurts the victim, but at the same time maybe it scares the surrounding states into cleaning up their act enough to avoid getting the same treatment. This, after all, is pretty much what the neocons have been claiming all along: namely that democracy in Iraq will act as a spur to the rest of the Middle East to modernize and liberalize in a sort of reverse domino theory.

So maybe they got the democracy in Iraq part wrong, but the reverse domino theory part right. I’m not sure I find this convincing myself, but it seems like a possibility the authors should at least discuss. It also seems like an area ripe for more detailed investigation: forget the countries that we’ve actually invaded, but instead take a look at their neighbors. Maybe that’s where the real action is.