First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
What If It All Goes Right?
Suppose it all goes exactly right. We set up a quarrelsome, backbiting interim government in Iraq, and through some miracle they bring off democratic elections very quickly. The government that emerges is led by a George Washington -- that is, someone who governs with strength and dignity, standing above partisan politics, and when his first term or two is up, he declines to run again and power passes peacefully to someone who had been in opposition.
That is the test of a new democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to an opponent because of a fundamental respect for the voice of the people.
The reason Arabs have lost war after war to Israel -- and to us -- is not because Arabs can't fight. These are some of the bravest, most effective fighters in the world -- when they are well led, and when they believe in their cause.
So ... supposing that the Iraqis are well led by their new democratic government, and supposing that new economic freedom allows Iraq to prosper as it should. In only a very few years, Iraq will be the economically and culturally strongest nation in the region. They will be the pride of the middle east.
Do you think they'll be our friends?
Well, think carefully back to your American history class. Just how long did our close friendship with France last after they made our revolution possible? A while.
But democracies have incredibly short memories. This new, powerful, democratic Iraq will not be our puppet.
Saddam's bullying and bluster will be replaced by genuine prestige. When the government of Iraq deplores the actions of Jordan or Syria or Egypt or Saudi Arabia, it won't be some tinhorn dictator posing for the cameras. It will be a politician who has a constituency. He will be responding to the will of the people of Iraq.
Do you think that won't be noticed by the people on the street in every Arabic-speaking nation?
If this great experiment in liberation that we've performed goes according to our best hopes, we will have created the first Arab nation that has a decent chance of uniting the Arab world under one leadership.
Why? Because the democratic Iraqi government will be so popular with the Arab street that the terrified dictators and authoritarians and oligarchies and monarchies in the other countries will have to bend and bend and bend to the Iraqi will. They will have to fall in line or risk revolution.
In fact, some of them probably will be toppled by revolutions. And the new governments will at least pretend to be as democratic as Iraq.
Armies led by such a government will promote officers, not because of their loyalty to a particular dictator, but because of their talents and their commitment to the constitution of Iraq. You know, the way it generally works in western democracy.
Not every officer thus promoted will be any good, but enough of them will be that when the new Iraqi Army goes into the field, there'll be none of this surrendering nonsense.
They will have gone to war because their people want to fight. Their soldiers will be fighting, not for a hideous dictator who murders and terrifies his people, but for a cause believed in by their families. These soldiers will not be fighting just to stay alive until they can slip back into the general population.
They'll be fighting to win.
Because the great secret of the Arab world is that when they are not led by idiots, Arab fighters can be as dangerous and terrible as any soldiers.
When France helped "liberate" the United States of America, they had no idea what they had just launched upon the world. Thirty years later, America took on the world's greatest empire and fought them to a standstill.
Thirty years after that, we seized half the territory of Mexico and extended our borders to the Pacific. In another twenty years we fought one of the bloodiest wars in history and emerged stronger than ever. Fifty years after that, our intervention decided the end of an even bloodier war and then walked away.
Iraq will not follow that path because in some ways their task is already easier. There are already millions and millions of Arabs throughout the Middle East and North Africa looking for leadership. Longing for a restoration of the great age of Arab conquest and empire.
How long before they rally behind the leadership of Iraq?
Let's learn from France's experience with the fledgling United States. You never know, when bringing the blessing of freedom and democracy to another nation, when you might be anointing your own successor.
I say this, not as a warning, because the ebb and flow of history has no inevitable forces, but rather as a guide. Having created Iraq's new chance for democracy, let us not expect them to be as compliant as the Shah of Iran was for so many years.
Let us instead treat them immediately as our equal among nations -- not our equal in wealth and power, but our equal in legitimacy as the elected leaders of a great and free people. Let France, Russia, or Germany try to bully them and earn their hatred -- but never us.
Then, when they come into their day of power, we may be relieved to find that they do not see us as their enemy.
Because once democracy takes hold in Iraq, no foreign army will ever pass easily through that land again. Not even ours.
Then again, the new Iraqi democracy may crash on the rocks of ethnic and religious feuding, corruption, rigid ideology, and selfish ambition, like nearly every other attempt at democracy in the Arab world.
How do you invent democracy in a country that hasn't known much of it before?
Iraq has already had a taste of it, here and there. It happened when people in certain neighborhoods banded together to protect their homes and businesses from looters.
It was neighborhood democracy. There's a job to do, there's no Big Government to do it, so you get people together and you all work to make it happen.
Our occupying army, during its hopefully brief time in charge of civil order in Iraq, could divide the cities into village-sized sectors -- three or four hundred households in each village.
Then give those villages some real authority:
Some policemen paid for by the larger government but reporting to the village council on dangers and problems in the neighborhood.
Authority over the distribution of aid to those who need it.
The right to hear and prioritize complaints and petitions to infrastructure repair authorities.
With the power -- immediately -- to elect local officials with the power to affect their lives, the people in these villages will get a sense of what democracy is and how elected leaders are supposed to respond to their constituents.
And from these locally elected leaders, a new generation of truly democratic leaders will arise -- leaders who know what it means to serve real people they have to face in person, instead of rallying and manipulating large faceless mobs.
Come to think of it, we could use some of that in America.
Copyright © 2003 by Orson Scott Card.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.