Wednesday, November 21, 2007

George Bush's Democratic Peace

During President George W. Bush’s second inaugural address, he declared that the policy of the United States would be to promote democracy around the world in order to safeguard the nation. “Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation's security, and the calling of our time. So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” With his inaugural speech, President Bush explicitly put the theory of “democratic peace” at the center of Administration policy. As an organizing principle for foreign policy, “democratic peace” is not a bad idea. “This absence of war between democracies comes as close as anything we have to an empirical law in international relations.”

President Bush has put his policy in action in rebuilding Iraq. The US military and to a lesser extent other US government agencies have been groping for the best policy to establish Davis’ prerequisites of democracy (periodic and fair elections, transparency, free flow of information, protection of human rights and a literate citizenry). By turning to intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and non-governmental organizations (IGOs) for assistance in certain aspects of building democracy in Iraq, the United States would be more successful. For example, NATO, an IGO centered in Europe has a role to play in enhancing the positive example that the Kurdish north. The Lawyer’s Committee for Human Rights, which has been renamed “Human Rights First” is an NGO that can assist in solidifying the legal system in Iraq. The World Trade Organization, an IGO, has a role in jumpstarting the economy of Iraq whose massive unemployment can undermine other fledgling democratic institutions. Colin Powell, then Secretary of State recognized the importance of NGOs in accomplishing the policy goals of the US government: “I am serious about making sure we have the best relationship with the NGOs who are such a force multiplier for us, such an important part of our combat team.”

Eric Davis is emphatic about the importance of the Kurds in northern Iraq in allowing democracy to take root. “The importance of Iraq’s Kurds can provide inspiration for all of Iraq in its efforts to bring about a democratic transition.” As successful as the Kurds have been, there is still a major issue that must be resolved. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has conducted terror attacks in Turkey in an effort to establish a separate Kurdistan that stretches from current Turkish territory to Iran. Although the PKK has ostensibly abandoned the idea of Greater Kurdistan, the party continues terroristic attacks on Turkish targets. Since many Kurds in northern Iraq are generally sympathetic to the goals of the PKK, the party has found refuge in Iraq. Turkey is outraged that terrorists have safe haven over the border, and have massed troops there, threatening to invade northern Iraq to destroy the PKK.

Dealing with the presence of PKK in Iraq is precisely the type of situation where NATO could have an effect. Since Turkey is a NATO member and Iraq is kind of a junior NATO partner since the US has a huge occupying force there, NATO is uniquely poised to bring all the parties together to resolve the crisis. In fact, NATO has indeed done that, convening a working group on the crisis with high-level NATO diplomats addressing the issue. With NATO at the fore, this crisis can be resolved. Longer term, NATO should work to bring Iraq formally into the organization, so that Turkey and Iraq can use the organization as an umbrella for further bilateral talks aimed at reducing tension.

Perhaps the strongest democratic force in Iraq, and its most mature, is the legal system. United States federal court officers sent over to assist in rebuilding the Iraqi court system tell stories similar to this one: “I soon found reasons for hope. Many judges were Baathists in name only; some had reputations for honesty and fairness. Others, particularly older judges, had not been party members at all. The courage they had shown in retaining their integrity, often at great personal sacrifice, was inspiring.” Upon this foundation of jurists who retained their dignity and integrity, it is possible to rebuild court systems in which all Iraqis will have confidence. To facilitate the rebuilding, NGOs with legal experience are invaluable. Of particular note is the Lawyer’s Committee for Human rights. “It’s programs focus on building the legal institutions and structures that will guarantee human rights in the long term.” An organization with such a focus can assist the Iraqi bar to rebuild confidence in the legal system there so that it can be a bulwark against the erosion of freedoms.

The Iraq economy is in the midst of a real turn-around. With oil selling at nearly $100 a barrel, Iraq may earn approximately $70 billion in oil revenues this year. This total alone would put Iraq in the top 1/3 of all countries GDP in the world as ranked by the World Bank. The World Trade Organization should move quickly to help the Iraqi economy diversify from an economy based solely commodity export, to one that also leverages Iraq’s fertile agricultural regions and educated workforce. The equitably distributed capital available to Iraq, a tariff-free trade policy, close relations with the world’s largest economy, the United States, and assistance by the WTO stand to make Iraq a formidable economy in the medium term. The WTO would also benefit by holding up Iraq as a model for other former totalitarian basket-cases to move towards open markets and democracy.

A country that can combine leadership from a freedom-loving portion of their population, a strong legal system and a strong economy will be prosperous and peaceful. International and regional organizations can promote these goals in Iraq and at the same time, raise their reputations as groups that can actually get things done in the real world.

1. Bush, George W. “President Sworn-In to Second Term.” ( January 20, 2005 at accessed on 13 November 2007.

2. Levy, Jack S. “Domestic Politics and War” in The Origin and Prevention of Major Wars, Rotherg, Robert J and Theodore K Rabb, eds (New York: Cambridge University Press) 1988. pg 88.

3. Davis, Eric. “Strategies for Promoting Democracy in Iraq” United States Institute for Peace Special Report (Washington DC: United States Institute for Peace) October 2005. pg 2, 12.

4. Powell, Colin. “Remarks to the National Foreign Policy Conference for Leaders of Nongovernmental Organizations” ( October 26, 2001 at accessed 13 November 2007.

5. Davis, pg 6.

6. Australian Government “Kurdistan Workers Party” in “Listing of Terrorism Organizations” ( at accessed 13 November 2007.

7. Coughlin, Richard “In Iraq, a Justice System Worth Saving” New York Times July 26, 2003 at,%20Saddam accessed 13 November 2007.

8. Aall, Pamela, Guide to IGOs NGOs and the Military (Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press) 2000. pg 152.