Friday, April 16, 2004

Intervention can bring liberation and identity - but not democracy

Contrary to the increasingly desperate rhetoric offered by George W and Mr Tony, I'm increasingly of the opinion that direct outside intervention (DOI) is unlikely to plant democracy.

I was thinking about this following the recent events in Iraq.

Can anyone give me one example - just one - of where DOI has led directly to democracy? I'm still thinking.

If we think of democracy as a form of revolution, then it's the third stage of a particular process which involves revolutions centering around first emancipation and then national identity.

In the first stage, that of emancipation, DOI can free a people deliberately (eg the French in the American revolution) or unintentionally (eg Japan in South Eat Asia). But it needn't even be overt military involvement: just maintaining a clear position in an independence movement can be sufficient, as in Britain's stance during the Latin American wars of independence.

The second stage is similar to the first, with DOI shaping a community identity either intentionally or inadvertently. But whereas the first stage can deliver a mutually beneficial and supportive relationship between the local and outside groups, the second stage is perhaps more detrimental to the relationship.

Examples of this could include the British and French involvement in the Middle East after the First World War; reaction against the Mandate powers in the newly established states helped break down the idea of Arab identity into particular national identities in Iraq, Syria, etc. The foreign involvement in the Russian Civil War helped the Bolsheviks merge their identity with that of the local populace; the Western powers in China during the Boxer rebellion helped sow the seeds of modern Chinese nationalism.

And like the fist stage, this second stage need not be overtly militarist. Traditional imperialism began to jar during and after he Second World War in Africa and South Asia, as the war rhetoric of democracy and freedom contrasted with the British and French presence in those regions. In all these cases the foreign presence was sufficient to create a reaction and a sense of identity.

And unlike the first stage, the second level of this revolution can be changed over and over again. Iran has been both a client state of the West and more recently a theocratic Muslim state; Latin American countries have fluctuated between oligarchy, democracy and military regimes.

The third stage, that of democracy, can't be achieved from outside. It has to come from within, from the grass roots. Spain and Portugal in the 1970s, Latin America and Taiwan in the 1980s, South Africa and Indonesia in the 1990s - all have been achieved on the ground by domestic supporters of democracy.

Even where the leaders of these movements have been subjected to foreign influences, the democratic revolution cannot be elite-driven. Despite the EU on Spain's doorstep it took the death of Franco to create a vacuum; in Latin America and Taiwan the military regimes were discredited economically; South Africa woke up to the demographic changes; and Indonesia suffered economically.

So where is Iraq? I suspect it is probably at the second stage, where a new identity is being created post-Saddam. While those opposed to the American and British occupation may be small, there is no groundswell of public support or demonstrations in favour of the Allies. Both Sunni and Shia have had their reasons to turn against their erstwhile liberators in the last month; and so far there seems to be no sign of democracy taking root on the ground.

Sure, there are some Iraqis, including those in exile, who want to see a democratic Iraq. But are they at the vanguard of public opinion? At the moment it doesn't seem so. Maybe when the current political allegiances break down there may be a more receptive audience to that message.

Until then the two stages of the three which are subject to DOI have been achieved: first emancipation, second, identity, which is currently underway and being re-written as we speak. But the third - and hardest - stage, which can only be established from within - democracy - has yet to find itself.

What do you think? Let me know.

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