Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Middle East democracy needs time and tenacity

By Con George-Kotzabasis - posted Friday, 27 January 2006

In his December 20 2005, Australian article, "The Jury Is Still Out", Steven Clemons argues by implication that the Iraqi election was neither a milestone nor a turning point, because “there is still a lot of treacherous ground to cover”. He mocks William Kristol and Robert Kagan for writing in the Weekly Standard that the Iraqi election was “an eruption of democracy in the heart of the Arab world”, and Lawrence Kaplan for stating in the New Republic that the election “really was a milestone”.

With a final arrow of mockery he strikes President Bush for declaring the election “was a landmark in the history of liberty”. But, being a professional, he does not burn all his boats - just in case the history-making of the “neo-conservatives” and the executive in the Oval Office turns out to be right, and the arrows of his mockery become boomerangs. He states, “Kristol, Kagan and Kaplan - as well as Bush - may still prove to be correct”, although he still considers their position “more sentimental than logical - not to mention self-serving”.

But let us respond to the core of his argument - that “beneath this big number [of voters] are some unpleasant realities”. The religious leaders of the country issued a fatwa instructing their followers of their “religious duty to vote”. Clemons sees this as “soft coercion rather than a strong buy-in to democratic process”. The important thing however, is that “this big number” of voters followed the directions of their leaders, who were themselves convinced of the value of the democratic process, and had embraced it ardently. In a country such as Iraq, ruled for so long by authoritarian and dictatorial regimes, where people had never experienced the benefits of democratic freedom, leaders are needed to usher in a democratic system of government.


Kemal Ataturk is the ne plus ultra of a leader bringing his people to embrace modernity after four centuries of sultanate despotism. Clemons completely disregards, indeed, misses, this historic fact in his heedless and hasty endeavour to understate the strength of the advent of democracy in Iraq. The most important feature is not the “buy-in” of democracy by the people, but the successful “sell-in” of democracy to all Iraq's religious and secular factions by their respective leaders. It is this “U-turn” towards democracy by Iraq's leaders, in their bids to secure power while rejecting violence and the barrel of the gun as a means of achieving it that augurs well for a democratic future in Iraq.

Clemons also argues the high turn out of Sunni voters at the elections was prompted by fear. Many Sunnis have been tortured and murdered by the present Shi'ite-dominated government and its continuation would further endanger the Sunnis. He concludes it was fear that caused the Sunnis to participate in such great numbers in the elections, not only “hope and belief in democracy”. But the Shi’ite dominance was installed when the first interim government was elected in January 2005. Why, then, did the Sunnis not participate in the constitutional elections held in October 2005?

He further states "that most Iraqis … don’t believe that politics is the best … ‘solution’ to their problems. They feel that violence remains the more pragmatic way to achieve justice and to protect one’s interests”. Given the number of polls showing security is the greatest concern of most Iraqis, and given security can only be achieved by the elimination of violence, Clemons statement exposes him as unhinged from reality. Unless he believes Iraqis' majority preference for violence has the underlying aim of installing a new Saddam who would provide this security.

A hidden desire for a new despot is counter-factual, and goes against the grain of all the probable scenarios that could unfold in Iraq. The rise of a strongman could only happen if the Americans withdrew from the country prematurely, with the likelihood their departure before Iraq was stabilised could spark a civil war.

Finally, in a burst of absurdity, he downgrades the “mountain” of neo-conservative strategy, - the spread of democracy - into a “mouse” of political point-scoring, saying that “framing an election as a success to score political points will only blur the US ability to see what is really unfolding in Iraq”. But if it was not a success, could he say it was a failure? Or would he choose some sort of a hybrid between success and failure, such as Richard Haass’ “ballotocracy”?

Turning points in history are not made instantly, nor by a spectacular event. They are made in a long hard building process. The turning point in Iraq will come as the policy makers of the Bush administration stay unflappably and tenaciously with their original strategic intention - bringing democracy to the Middle East. Iraq is the pivotal point of this strategy, which will turn the world of the terrorists and their state sponsors on its head. By defeating the insurgency in Iraq it will also defeat by proxy all other rogue states, as Libya has shown, and hasten the defeat of global terror. All the indications are that the US is going to stay on the point of victory.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

Article edited by Virginia Tressider.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

22 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Con George-Kotzabasis was a Director on the Board of SBS Television from 1986-96, when Brian Johns was the Managing Director of SBS, for a short time. He has also been a member of the Equal Opportunity Board in Victoria, from 1986-95, serving as an adjudicator on its tribunal.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Con George-Kotzabasis

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 22 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy