Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 4, 2005
By: Dan Drezner

MARC, YOU IGNORANT SLUT... OK, Kevin clearly thinks we're pussyfooting around the Big Question "did the Iraq war spur the democratic reforms that we've recently seen sprouting in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East?" Marc has ably laid out the "no" answer; here's why I think Marc and Heather Hurlburt are wrong.

First, Hurlburt's essay wasn't terribly convincing (which surprised me I've liked her stuff in the past). Her empirical examples Cambodia, Haiti, Liberia, and Kosovo are off. Cambodia wasn't a case of coercive democratization there was never a real regime change. Haiti is a bad example because with the exception of Cuba there were no non-democratic neighbors for spillover to take place. Kosovo is a really bad example for Heather, unless she believes that what happened in Serbia in 2000 was unrelated to the Kosovo occupation. As for Liberia, she might be right (I don't know a great deal about this case) but if memory serves, the U.S. never out-and-out occupied the country and forced a regime change.

Furthermore, Hurlburt conflates two different questions in her essay: whether it's possible to create a democratic regime in a country via occupation, and whether a forcible regime change in one country has demonstration effects in neighboring undemocratic states.

Let's state as given that the January election in Iraq was strong evidence that democracy has made some inroads in Iraq. What about the rest of the region? I'm surprised that Marc is downplaying the significance of the Iraqi elections, since I would suggest that the causal mechanism through which the election mattered was... having the election broadcast and commentated to death on Al-Jazeera and other Arab media outlets. The fact that independent Arab media covered the event so well sent a credible signal to other Arabs about the Iraqi desire for democracy.

I'll go even further and make a truly counter-intuitive, not-completely-thought-out suggestion: the Iraqi elections mattered more because of the violent insurgency. What stunned everyone was not just that the election was successful, but that the initial conditions for success were so poor. The fact that Iraqis demonstrated a willingness to vote in the face of insurgent threats of violence was as powerful a signal as you could get in a region accustomed to power emanating from the barrel of a gun. The fact that insurgent-friendly Sunni groups like the Association of Muslim Scholars acknowledged afterwards that they had screwed up their election strategy was equally powerful.

What the Iraqi election signaled to Heather and Marc's indigenous activists and the governments in the region was that it was possible for peaceful demonstrations of political voice to blunt the power of violence as a political tool.

Kevin gets to ask questions, so I'll lob a few back at Kevin, Marc, Heather at Democracy Arsenal, and the commenters: I'll stipulate that the existence of "indigenous activists" is a necessary condition for change in the Arab Middle East. However, would you acknowledge that these groups are not a sufficient condition for democratic change? Indeed, perhaps the Iraqi elections were also a necessary but insufficient condition?

Let me close with two points where I am in complete agreement with both Heather and many of the commenters to my first post here: "Waves of democratization die out just as fast as they rise up," and "the post-Iraq wave of Arab democratization has much to be modest about." Arab democratization is in its very, very early stages, and could pop like a balloon. Even if it succeeds, in about a decade it would not be surprising if there was a counter-wave of authoritarianism.

Dan Drezner 1:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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