November 28, 2003

Federalism vs. Segregation and President Bush's 'Democracy'

President Bush’s recent speech regarding what The Economist calls his ‘crusade’ to spread democracy in the Middle East raises at least as many questions as it answers. In this entry, I want to reflect on the one that bothers me the most at this particular moment - if you find yourself forced to partition a country along racial lines, can the resulting entities ever in fact attain a democratic system along the philosophical lines of what the United States would like to believe is its own model?

Looked at one way, the dissolution of ‘artificial federations’ such as the former Yugoslavia and the decolonial dissolutions of Northern Africa are the natural cancellation of sovereign entities which were imposed by fiat from without. The wreckage of the First and Second World War and of course colonialism meant that in many cases nations were constructed with the stroke of a pen or sword, intended to serve strategic purpose either for a region or for a central power. The Yugoslavia in existence after World War Two was held together for most of the second half of the twentieth century by the foreign pressures of the Cold War and the iron hand of a government whose policies were empowered, if not legitimated, by those pressures.

However, once those foreign pressures eased, the internal schisms could not be contained, and the drive to dissolution was greater than any remaining trend to federation. It could be said that if, in fact, the various populations of those sub-regions in fact desire the dissolution of the greater state, then democracy is indeed being practiced. The problem is that since there will never be (and has never been) unanimous agreement on the eventual partitioning, there will be displaced and/or disenfranchised populations whose simple racial minority in a region after the redrawing of borders rob of political power. While this may be an unavoidable consequence, let us look at it in the light of President Bush’s expressed mission.

The partitioning of Iraq along religious lines may come either de jure or de facto. The already-existent strong religious and racial splits in that nation have been picked over at great length, especially in recent times. So let us suppose that the Iraqi population, handed the franchise, votes to partition the country - the most legitimate version of this chain of events in the forseeable future. At that point, you may have a democratic system - but you’ve diverged massively from the American model, and not just in path-dependent but in philosophical ways!

The United States fought the Civil War for any number of reasons, but at least part of the reason was due to a publicly-stated dispute over the interpretation of the Constitution of the United States - and the Federal Government went to war against its own ex-members with the position that their secession went counter to the Constitution. The notion of racial superiority was explicitly rejected, as was the ‘rights’ of a homogenous racial subgroup within a region to make binding sovereign decisions for all inhabitants of that region.

Partitioning of Iraq along religious lines, while perhaps popular both locally and in the United States for its expediency, essentially will validate the position espoused by the Confederate States of America and explicitly rejected by the Federal Government of the U.S. - namely, that the goal of short-term peace and security can be allowed to supersede the philosophical basis of the Constitution to the point that avoiding a war (or preventing one) is more important than remaining true to the principles of inclusion and equality put forth in the document which underlies the entire experiment of Democracy here in the United States.

While it is true that I would wish for peace and security in Iraq, I cannot say that I would wish for it at the expense of the philosophical basis of the United States’ democratic model if, in fact, that is the reason we are stating for being there. I have problems with Bush’s Crusade as a retrograde justification for this expedition in the first place - and the partitioning of the country, which may turn out to be the only available road to quietitude if not peace, will run directly counter to the principles that Bush is invoking in order to justify it.

So what, then, matters more? That our forces and people come home safely and well, and soon? Or that the Iraqi nation does, in fact, get a shot at democracy as I understand it? Or is the notion of ‘democracy’ pliable enough that a version which we, here, rejected at the cost of blood and treasure is ‘good enough’ for those abroad?

There really aren’t any good answers to this, and it bothers me on a constant basis.

Posted by jbz at November 28, 2003 10:24 PM
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