No Tradition

Some of you might recall that back when so many were waxing euphoric about the Iraqi elections, I warned that holding an election and establishing a democratic government were not the same thing.

Two months after those elections, the elected officials have not been able to agree on a new government. They probably will sooner or later, but it will be a tenuous agreement. Part of their difficulty is that we imposed on this interim-government process a requirement for a two-thirds vote to get almost anything approved in the new assembly.

If the American Congress had to pass everything with a two-thirds vote, we would have fewer laws than we do now. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea.

But the problem in Iraq, and in many other places, is that the culture is not democratic in the Western sense of the word. Our philosophy of individual rights began centuries ago in what we today call the United Kingdom. Long before it was united and long before America was even discovered by Europeans, the roots of individual liberty were planted in the cold soil of England and Scotland. There it developed through centuries of conflict.

Before the shroud of political correctness descended, it used to be easy to say that our form of free society is Anglo-Saxon. It is distinguished from other forms of democracy chiefly on this basis. In the Anglo-Saxon societies, individual rights trump group rights; in other places, including continental Europe, group rights trump the individual.

Thus, you can see a great similarity among the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The culture of these English-speaking countries differs from the cultures of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and even of continental Europe. The British Empire tried to make "Englishmen" of other people, and they failed. Now we are trying to make "Americans" out of other people, and we, too, will fail.

What makes those evangelicals of democracy think they can establish a government in Baghdad that is strong enough to rule the country but that won’t also be strong enough to perpetuate itself in power? What makes them think they can create an army and internal security force strong enough to secure the country but that won’t also be strong enough to seize power?

Our own Army has always been strong enough to seize control of the government. What has protected us from military coups is that our soldiers have a tradition of loyalty to the Constitution that would trump loyalty and obedience to a rogue officer. No such tradition of constitutional loyalty is present in the Middle East today. The tradition there is loyalty to a strong leader, a cultural trait shared with the Hispanic world.

Of course, traditions can change, including ours. In a quiz given by a professor, a pretty high percentage of Marines answered yes to the question of whether they would fire on their fellow citizens if so ordered. That’s why I’ve always opposed the all-volunteer Army. A volunteer force is by definition a mercenary force, and the longer it remains, the more it will tend to take on the characteristics of mercenaries — including loyalty to no one.

I mean no disrespect to the Iraqis. I wish them well. I just think that they will eventually choose security and jobs over endless debate. On a recent rancorous day, the first thing the Iraqi Assembly did was kick out the journalists. A free press is not part of their tradition. Even if, however, they do succeed at democracy, I don’t think it’s worth 1,500 American lives, 11,000 wounded and $200 billion.

The president should worry more about nurturing democracy in our country, where it is being slowly eroded. He should concern himself with rebuilding our infrastructure. He should address the soaring costs of education and health care for Americans.

Unfortunately, Mr. Bush seems to be under the erroneous belief that whatever office the American people elected him to, God has appointed him president of the world. He should spread that notion on his wife’s flower beds back home.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969 to 1971, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.