west’s proudest export to the Islamic world this past decade has
been democracy. That is, not real democracy, which is too complicated,
but elections. They have been exported at the point of a gun and
a missile to Iraq and Afghanistan, to "nation-build" these
states and hence "defeat terror". When apologists are
challenged to show some good resulting from the shambles, they invariably
reply: "It has given Iraqis and Afghans freedom to vote."
electors don democratic finery and troop to the polls next month,
elections in both war-torn countries are looking sick. Last month’s
poll in Iraq, blessed (or cursed) with a Westminster-style constitution,
has failed to yield a coherent government. It appeared to show the
incumbent prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, just beaten by his predecessor,
Ayad Allawi. If so, it would be a remarkable case of a developing
world democracy actually ejecting a sitting leader. In that respect,
Iraq would be ahead of Britain, where the opposition must lead by
at least 10 percentage points to be certain of power.
For the time
being, Baghdad’s government has been in abeyance. The Sunni militias,
reportedly backed by al-Qaida, have returned to the streets, and
the death rate is again soaring. Kurdistan is all but a separate
country, and the odds are on the Sunnis being forced back into a
semi-autonomous region. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died and
millions been driven from their homes – including almost all
Iraq’s ancient population of Christians. The import of democracy
has so far just inflamed local tension and fuelled fundamentalism.
Like precious porcelain, elections were exported without instructions
on their care. In the absence of adequate security, they are little
more than tribal plebiscites.
At least in
Iraq western troops are leaving the country to its fate. The west’s
guilt at the mayhem left behind will start to diminish with time.
People will blame George Bush and Tony Blair, leaving them, as they
wish, to render their account not to the Iraqis but only to God.
a similar saga has been running for nine years, and is growing ever
more tragic. Last year saw the deaths of more Afghans (2,412) and
more western troops (520) than since the 2001 invasion. Nato is
locked in a struggle to hold Helmand province for the government
of the president, Hamid Karzai, against insurgents who can wait
as long as they like to defeat the hated invaders.
Nato is only
now seeking control, nine years on, of the country’s second city
of Kandahar, in which the Taliban is dominant and the president’s
brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is the power broker. Karzai is said
to have told local elders that there will be no assault on Kandahar
"without their permission". If Nato cannot negotiate a
deal over the city, rather than reduce it to rubble, its mission
is surely doomed.
The fact that
Hamid Karzai was elected, by whatever dubious means, seems to infuriate
western leaders. Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and their respective
foreign ministers rage and telephone and pay visits and expostulate.
The repetitive criticism hurled at Karzai for being corrupt and
in the pocket of drug lords has become near comical, not least because
of his eccentric response. Last week he threatened privately to
swear allegiance to the Taliban himself (which might solve many
The west is
constantly telling Karzai to "clean up his act" or, as
the New York Times harrumphs, "stop doing whatever he
and his aides choose". This is not because there is any likelihood
of his obeying, but to help make the domestic case for the war look
less shaky. As the joke in Kabul goes, as long as the west pretends
to uphold his regime, Karzai must "pretend to be Swedish".
He is America’s exhibit A for world democracy. The idea that he
might regard himself as the elected representative of the Afghan
people, warts and all, with a future to consider and his neck on
the line, is beyond consideration.