Democratizing the world

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Society
July 29th, 2003 • 10:21 pm

Former CIA Director James Woolsey’s recent essay as published by The Observer on Sunday, July 20 is an interesting read. It is, presumably, an attempt to further justify the US intervention in Iraq in light of the fact that the western world is at war with ‘fascist’ Middle East governments and totalitarian Islamists. And it makes an eloquent case for democracy and freedom as the ultimate goal for all countries in the world.

The essay still suffers from two fundamental flaws. First of all, it fails to address the core issue in the recent debate over the US intervention in Iraq — which is not, contrary to what some would have us believe, about whether military intervention in Iraq was justified, but about the reasons why intervention in Iraq was deemed particularly “urgent” compared to intervention in other countries ruled by fascist or extremist regimes. As far as I know, the whole “weapons of mass destruction” business was precisely used as the primary reason to justify the urgent nature of dealing with Iraq. Yet all signs indicate that there were no urgent reasons to intervene in Iraq, and that the US administration decided to intervene now simply because this was the long-time goal of a small clique of ideologists led by Paul Wolfowitz.

Even more importantly, what this essay fails to address is the very failure of the process that led to the war. Democratizing the whole wide world is a grand and noble project. I have absolutely nothing against it. While I don’t believe that democracy is a panacea, it certain is better than any of the alternatives. But it seems to me that, if democracy is the goal, then democracy should also characterize the process that takes us there. In other words, the very decisions regardinging the enforcement of democracy in the world and the means used to achieve this should be subject to a democratic debate at a global level. Just because the US played an essential role in World War II and in other conflicts since then, it doesn’t mean that it should be allowed or entitled to making such decisions by itself with little or no support from other established democracies. The relative importance of the views of each and every participating country is of course open to debate, but there is little doubt in my mind that the only way to achieve democracy on a global scale is to make the process used to get there itself as democratic as possible. And the current US administration seems to have very little interest in that aspect of things.

It’s all a matter of practicing what you are preaching. Recent events and conflicts have shown that there is a dire need for strong international structures. If major democratic countries such as France or Germany believe that they are not involved in the process, that their opinion about the ways to achieve democracy in rogue states ruled by fascist regimes does not matter, and if the US administration is allowed to hand-pick which international treaties it accepts to comply with, then how can we ensure that the process of democratizing the world will remain subject to the same kinds of public safeguards that make democracy a realistic proposition at a national level?

After all, democracy is and has always been a work in progress, even at a national level. Nothing can be taken for granted, and a number of independent structures and sacrosanct rules are required to prevent corruption, abuse of authority/power, etc. Why should it be any different at an international level. Why should a single country, no matter how great its achievements are, be allowed to make up the rules as it goes along and answer to no one?

These are issues that I am afraid Mr. Woolsey’s essay doesn’t address.

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