American Diplomacy
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September 2006

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Rather than press all failed states to adopt Western notions of democracy, Dr. Sam Holliday argues that the United States should delay development of a unitary government until non-Western societies have first established local stability, perhaps on a federal model, and agreed upon a social contract based upon their traditions and customs. — Contrib. Ed.

Attempts to develop pluralistic Western-style democracy in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon have fallen short of expectations. It therefore seems appropriate to reevaluate Western-style democracy as the solution to chaos in countries suffering from growing pains. We need to look more closely into which of the devices of democracy some countries should ignore, or others having been attempted, they should abandon. We also need to identify why India, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have been able to combine their cultural histories with Western culture to create their own form of democracy. We need to reconsider how best to introduce representative government into Islamic countries.

Past Foreign Policy
During the 19th Century, technologically advanced European states established preeminent influence over many less-developed, indigenous people throughout the world. The great powers justified their colonialism in terms of noble and humanitarian goals, of which one was the spread of Western-style democracy. In order to duplicate Western political, economic, and legal systems, the colonial powers centralized secular authority in the name of the rule of law and then attempted to export their own political systems. Too often, however, they made only minimal efforts to create a social contract in keeping with each country's customs and traditions.

Beginning with Woodrow Wilson many in the American foreign policy establishment have also seen democracy as the solution to the world's problems. Few have recognized the many variations of democracy and regarded only Western political structures, procedures, values, and attitudes as suitable for export. Few have recognized the defects of democracy until much effort, time, and money have been squandered.

Regarding elections, universal suffrage, and “One Man One Vote” as the bedrocks of good government, the “democracy'” introduced in many non-Western countries resulted in a caricature of that specified by the social contracts of Western nation-states. In some countries “democracy” resulted in authoritarian regimes after one man, one vote—one time. In others it produced instability, sectarian violence, and chaos. Very few former colonies had the opportunity to develop social contracts based on their own customs and traditions, rather than on qualities that made the West so powerful in the 18th and 19th centuries. They either fell short of success in dividing power among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of a unitary government or they failed to decentralize authority to the lowest possible level of governance. Without checks and balances a democracy can be as great a threat to individual freedom as any authoritarian regime if a majority, legitimized by elections, exploits others.

Since World War II the foreign policy of the United States has treated militant factions in conflict as parties in a system of parliamentary government. This error occurred between 1944 and 1947 regarding China. In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s the United States made the same mistake in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. And again in the 1990s the same misunderstanding misled policy makers regarding the Middle East, Bosnia and Kosovo. More recently the United States repeated the error in Lebanon, Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Obsession with (1) authority of a central government, (2) rule of law to replace custom and tradition, (3) democracy defined as universal suffrage and elections, and (4) human rights has caused frequent repetition of that error. This perspective has much in common with 19th century colonialism. The post-1950s ideological tunnel vision of American policy makers, all of whom wanted to spread the benefits of democracy, has squandered billions of dollars—with few long-term benefits.

On the other hand, there are places where Western political, economic and social ideas have taken root since World War II. After growing pains, the cultures of India, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea absorbed many ideas from the West to create their own version of representative government, a market economy, and civil rights. The record in Islamic countries is far less promising. Western ideas are openly championed in Malaysia, Indonesia, Niger, and Mali and are putting up a fight against fundamentalist Islam. Turkey is a special case. However, throughout Southwest Asia and northern Africa only intellectuals propose Western ideas of democracy, while the people and practical politicians have only adopted Western ideas about statism—not those about representative government.

In Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and many other countries, the United States has too often regarded militant factions—each demanding control of the same territory—as legitimate political parties in a democratic system. Even groups of Islamist hirabahists (“evil doers” willing to use terror to overthrow authority) have received all the rights and benefits of political parties and a patina of respectability even as they built their deadly organizations and went about their deadly work. The fact that individuals have occasionally gone to the polls became viewed as evidence of democracy. Why did well-meaning, compassionate colonialists in the 19th century, and neo-colonialists more recently, export ideas that produced such results? Could it be that they assumed that pluralistic Western-style democracy represented the solution—without considering other alternatives?

Non-Western Democracy
It must be recognized that pluralistic Western-style democracy as it developed during the 18th and 19th centuries constitutes only one version of representative government, one resting on the values of freedom and equality and relying on the rule of law, universal suffrage, and majority rule within a political process designed to protect civil rights and to preserve the sovereignty of the people. During the 20th century Western-style democracy also assumed a welfare role by making adjustments to correct economic and social inequalities. We must address the question: Are there other forms of representative government, more suited to countries throughout the world, than those based on the ideology of Western-style democracy?

Starting in Greece, Western democracy rested on individualism and supremacy of state authority through the rule of law. Before colonialism erased it, however, non-Western democracy built on groups (families, tribes, clans, guilds, or villages) existed in many parts of the world. A myriad of local groups and assemblies regulated most social, cultural, and economic activates. Today remnants of non-Western democracy often survive in remote rural areas or where European colonial rule never became established (e.g. Afghanistan).

Both Western and non-Western democracy can provide means to achieve the basic requirements of sovereignty: (1) a monopoly on the use of force, and (2) the ability to regulate behavior justly. Today Western democracies usually achieve this by the central government having the power to make and adjudicate laws, i.e. they rely mainly on secular authority to regulate behavior. Europe achieved that condition only slowly between 1500 and 1914, a period of progressive economic and administrative rationalization and differentiation of societies. During that period, civic virtue (the self-regulating behavior of individuals based upon moral, ethical and religious beliefs) was just as important as the rewards and punishments of law (secular authority) in the regulation of behavior. In time both law and civic virtue became combined with national identity, patriotism, and the scientific method as the arbiters of truth to prevent chaos and to achieve order and a climate of satisfaction.

Western-style democracy implies majority rule, together with the protection of minorities. But “majority” rule does not necessarily mean that the faction with the greatest numbers rules. Nor did universal suffrage exist in Europe until the 20th century. Non-Western democracy, based on groups rather than individuals, relies on consensus rather than elections and majority rule.

Non-Western democracies have traditionally relied on custom and traditions to regulate most behavior—using law (secular authority) primarily for criminal acts. Most non-Western people—even Muslims—are not necessarily opposed to representative government. Just as in the West there are those that do favor oligarchy, theocracy and dictatorship. Yet most people favor some form of democracy. The aim should be to find those forms of representative government that blend with the customs and traditions of the people. And non-Western democracy is a good place to look for a solution.

Few Westerners have any knowledge of non-Western democracy. It is rarely mentioned in academic texts on political theory or government, and rarely even discussed in academe. Democracy is always defined as it developed within Western Civilization. Those responsible for United States foreign policy need to become aware of: Democracies of the East, R. Mukerjee, London 1923; Indian Culture Through the Ages, S.V. Venkateswara, London 1932; Hindu Civilization, R.K. Mookerji, Bombay 1950; State and Government in Ancient India, A.S. Altekar, Benares, 1949; The City of God, John Healey, London, 1931: Theory of Government in Ancient India, Beni Prasad, Allahabad, 1927; Studies in Gandhism, Nirmal Kumar Bose, Calcutta, 1947; The Political Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, Gopinath Dhawan. Ahmedabad, 1946; The Evolution of Political Thought, C. Northcote Parkinson, New York, 1958.

Iraq is an artificial creation of British foreign policy, negotiations with the French, and payback to the Hashemite leaders following World War I. It is a country that has factions with long, deep, and bitter differences that has achieved stability only through authoritarian rule. Any attempt to establish a unitary government of, by, and for the people is a recipe for failure—just as it has been in the past. Each faction has its own identity, and it is impossible to create a single nation in a short time. In a post-Saddam Iraq, American “neo-colonialists” should never have sought coalition government and universal suffrage. They should, instead, have prompted the Iraqis to develop their own social contract as they established local security and local authority. Any resulting central government should have been a form of federation—something like that in Switzerland in the 19th century. For the immediate future Iraq needs a self-regulating equilibrium among the various factions, so that Shiite religious leaders no longer control the ruling majority. Decisions in Iraq's central government must reflect the consensus of those (from a multiplicity of religious, tribal, secular, regional, and commercial factions) who want a better future for Iraq, rather than any ruling majority that conforms to a specific ideology—be it Shiite Islam or pluralistic Western-style democracy.

In time Iraq may become a pluralistic Western-style nation-state, but the Iraqis must achieve that themselves and at their own pace. For now, a very high degree of decentralization of authority and a greater reliance on custom and tradition must prevail. The aim should not be duplication of American political, economic, and legal systems in the name of building democracy, free markets, and human rights. Iraq must instead emphasize reforming conditions that breed radicalism and hatred for America in favor of ones that value freedom, cooperation, self-determination, stability, and self-sufficiency. In other words, the United States should help Iraqis establish a federated sovereign state of eighteen self-governing provinces—not of Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite self-governing regions, which would only increase the polarization and potential for War.

No longer should Iraqis focus on the over centralization of authority in Baghdad in order to create and maintain legitimacy, the rule of law, and administrative capability to govern all of Iraq. They should instead rely on decentralization to allow the people of Iraq to recreate their own sense of identity and to satisfy their quest for dignity, within effective and efficient political structures and processes for the central government and the eighteen provincial governments—each some variation of democracy.

The federal government in Baghdad must, nevertheless, control the armed forces and become capable of (1) defending Iraq's borders, (2) preventing the secession of any province, and (3) avoiding the division of Iraq into Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish regions. The federal government must control foreign policy, currency and monetary policy, the coordination of inter-provincial activities, and laws governing trade and commerce. Iraqis must also establish an independent agency for the supervision of petroleum related activities, to include the allocation of the petroleum revenue. No prescription by foreigners (philosophers, economists, or political scientists) will succeed as well as an acceptable revenue-sharing formula, with appropriate incentives, developed by the Iraqis themselves.

The Levant
Following World War I Europeans thought it a noble idea to have an Arab Islamic state (Transjordan), a Jewish state (Israel) and a Christian state (Lebanon) at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, the region previously known as The Levant. Despite those hopes, peace in The Levant has always faltered on hatred, xenophobia, tribalism, power seeking, and rigidity. Proposals by many brilliant statesmen, with vast experience, have failed, in part because each group defines its own version of history and creates its own rational to justify the triumph of its claims over those of all others. That situation makes it unlikely that Palestine and Israel will live side by side in peace. Nor will Islamic “true believers” and Iran allow Lebanon to again become a peaceful, prosperous multicultural state governed by the Christians and Druze (an Islamic splinter group rejected as heretical by the “true believers”).

The Israelis have built a successful nation-state with representative government, but it faces a threat of being driven into the sea by a new Arab Islamic state (Palestine) dominated by Islamist “true believers.” Transjordan has become Jordan and a successful monarchy with a degree of representative government.

The Syrians, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Iran, and Hizb'allah have destroyed Christian Lebanon. Two military interventions in the 1950s gave Christian Lebanon a chance, but one in the 1980s did nothing to slow the Muslim take over. Today there is no possibility of a democratic government being able to disarm Hizb'allah. Lebanon has become a failed state.

For The Levant, the United States needs a new road map. Many will consider the route outlined here risky, impractical, and doomed—even if innovative and attractive. This new road map will be difficult to implement: yet it offers a better hope for long-term stability and peace in The Levant than anything attempted since World War I.

Policy makers should make every effort to advance that which unites rather than that which divides the peoples of The Levant. The use of the word Levant rather than Middle East represents a step in the right direction. By 10,000 BCE, Levantine Aurignacian culture had become established at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Various peoples have moved through this region, and some have stayed. After 1,000 BCE, the names Philistia, Phoenicia, Israel, and Judah became widely recognized.

It should be United States foreign policy to unite all of The Levant into a federation called the United Levantine States (ULS). The states within this federation would be formed from the people and groups that now live in Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine.

That requires helping everyone in this new federation to accept religious and cultural differences and to understand how to live in multicultural societies. The elements of the federated government should close schools that teach militant Islam and encourage their news media, specifically the new Arab—controlled media, should to show the advantages of cooperation over conflict, order over chaos, and peace over warfare. To some this might seem a fantasy because it requires a state of mind so different than what prevails today. Those methods, however, represent how hearts, minds, attitudes and beliefs evolve—how aspirations are changed. And changing aspirations is the most important aspect of unifying The Levant, and the only way to achieve long-term stability and peace. Developing a common identity as Levantines, rather than separate identities, would make an important step in the correct direction.

The solution outlined above will certainly have many detractors, and if adopted, will require skill and effort to realize its full potential. It will require what Napoleon referred to as “luck.” Napoleon's greatest successes often resulted from audacious and determined implementation of high-risk strategies. Before appointing a marshal, he would ask if the candidate had luck. Napoleon did not mean random chance. He wanted marshals who took risks, disdained incremental steps, and would implement bold strategies in a manner that produced desired results—which in hindsight others would call luck. Individuals with luck can achieve stability and peace in The Levant.

Future Foreign Policy
In the future, United States foreign policy should emphasize both the creation of a social contract for any country suffering from growing pains and the establishment of stability in those countries suffering from chaos. The United States should cease, however, attempting to export our version of democracy or the simple duplication of other Western political, economic, and legal systems. Each assisted state first needs a social contract based on the customs and traditions of its citizens and acceptable to the people living within its territory. Each state needs also stability, which requires effective local security and local authority.

The United States should not overestimate the ability of foreigners to bring representative government and stability to others. In some failed states that might be achieved fairly quickly, but in most embryonic states doing so will require decades. In Islamic countries it may require generations. In all cases the driving force must be internal. For Islamic countries, change must come from those Muslims who are not hirabahists because the views of Islamic “true believers” are incompatible with representative government. They seek a Theocracy based on the “truth” revealed in Muhammad's precepts and example. If the hirabahists are not neutralized they will kill, intimidate, or subjugate all of those who do not accept the “Way of the Prophet.”

Social Contract
A social contract is the agreement within a body politic that tends to preserve the whole. It assumes that the duties, rights, and responsiblites of both individuals and groups depend on some form of agreement. That might be expressed in a written constitution or understood through custom and tradition. A social contract specifies the relationships of individuals and factions within a polity; it defines what is just or unjust. It serves as the source of laws, and it allows for nonviolent evolutionary change. It defines both the distribution of power within the polity (monarchy, oligarchy, theocracy, democracy, and dictatorship) and the structures and processes of governance (unitary, federation, or confederation).

The social contract, not democracy, was fundamental to the growth of Western Civilization, though it is true that versions of democracy emerged from the structures and processes of governance selected under the social contract of most Western peoples. That likely explains why Westerners often think it easy to export their form of democracy to less-developed countries. To escape that thinking, it is important to understand how democracy and the social contract differ.

The assumption that all votes are equal is often associated with democracy. Yet democracy per se says nothing about the identity of the voters. In 5th century BCE Athens only one in eighteen of the total population could vote. At the same time, among the Lichchhavis in northern India, the ratio was one in twenty. Until the end of the 19th century, in the West only property owners voted because only they were said to have a stake in the success of the country. Since 1887, however, in pluralistic Western-style democracy, and among UN bureaucrats since 1945, universal suffrage, “One Man, One Vote,” and elections by individuals have been seen as essential aspects of “democracy”—though much of the world nevertheless regards that notion as an aspect of Western colonialism.

In the past century, democracy in the West has moved past political equality to forced equality in economic, social and cultural matters. With this has emerged what history has recorded as the defects of democracy in its decline: (1) the poor being able to vote themselves the wealth of the rich, (2) the consolidation of power in the central government, (3) an increase in government bureaucracies devoted to enforcing equality, (4) an emphasis on diversity, rather than on merit and a common identity, and (5) an inability of government to unite the country behind foreign policies.

The social contract is an intermediate step in the building of common identity, shared civic virtue, a sense of nation, and patriotism. It is an essential step in the growing pains of embryonic states and in the restoration of failed states. Without a social contract chaos and factional violence become inevitable, while civil war or disintegration are likely. Nation-states are not directly composed of individuals but of smaller groups. Something must reinforce the social bonds of any nation-state. Patriotism and shared civic virtue (moral, ethical, and religious beliefs that control behavior from within individuals) provide that reinforcement. Patriotism's strong feeling of loyalty to one's nation leads to heroic action to protect and preserve it.

Today any social contract must reflect the global village in which we live. It cannot take but one form or become frozen in a 7th century ideology or permit a Taliban—type government. Today it must insure that elites do not exploit their fellow citizens by including enough checks and balances to limit the harm they might do.

The word stability is a code for several old and complex concepts. In Western culture it is the Golden Mean: the pragmatic approach that avoids extremes. In Chinese culture it is Yin-Yang: the equilibrium among opposites. In physics it is a stable state: a condition of continual change within an overall state that is not changed. In systems theory it is homeostatic equilibrium: a system that maintains balance among its parts through continual adjustments.

Political stability exists when the government of a state has a monopoly on force and can maintain a climate of order and satisfaction within its territory. In practical terms this means establishing and maintaining local security and local authority as well as winning the hearts and minds of the people so as to neutralize all insurgents.

First of all, local security requires an effective intelligence system that will allow rapid response to any attempt at intimidation by insurgents or payments to them. When terror becomes a tool, a capability greater than that appropriate for policing ordinary crime must be added. Finally, if the insurgent group gains control of territory, control must be regained by the following: (1) identify the critical mass of the enemy and attack it with overwhelming forces, (2) find the insurgents, fix them, fight them, and finish them, (3) use battlefield tactics that make the best use of firepower and maneuver, and (4) gain an advantage with technological superiority. With the insurgents eliminated, the focus of government must return to the tasks of maintaining local authority and winning the hearts and minds of the people—the principal tasks of protracted asymmetrical conflict.

Effective local authority means a leadership in provinces, cities, villages and the countryside capable of solving everyday problems. This leadership must be: alert for signs of problems; able to use initiative and flexibility to win loyalty and produce results; capable of countering acts of intimidation, violence and destruction; quick to provide the basic necessities (water, shelter, electricity, and food); and ready to educate individuals.

The necessity of maintaining a climate of order and satisfaction through winning the hearts and minds of the people never ends. To a large degree, it depends on the expectations of the people and the ability of authorities to communicate with them. In today's world of radio, television, the internet, and rapid transportation that task requires a new set of tools. It requires the authority to organize and motivate the people and to satisfy their aspirations.

Groups represent no more than people welded together by a common destiny binding together tomorrow, today and yesterday into an active whole. That binding creates and maintains shared values, attitudes, habits and goals. This includes: patterns of cooperation and conflict; protection against corruption and breach of contract; expectations that stimulate productive investment and guarantee basic property rights according to a social contract; a dynamic economic system; a fabric of sanctioned relationship, and unseen lines of magnetic strength that link, join and confine; roles, rules, standards, and laws that shape economic and social activity; an elusive cultural environment.

Satisfying the aspirations of the people fuels progress. Aspirations can unite people in a common effort; yet aspirations can also set one faction against another, preventing progress. Satisfying aspirations will always remain an elusive, two faced task. Sole concern with satisfying aspirations can only result in turmoil, frustration and bitterness; as past aspirations are approached, new and more demanding ones emerge. Yet neglecting this task gives insurgents opportunities.

United States foreign policy should encourage representative government wherever possible. It should not focus on exporting pluralistic Western-style democracy. The most effective forms of representative government require stability and a social contract. Stability is not preservation of the status quo; it is a condition that exists when the government has a monopoly on the use of force and change can occur without violence. To preserve the whole body politic, its social contract must be built on common identity and shared civic virtue.

The United States should, therefore, do whatever it can to assist the realization of stability, common identity, and shared civic virtue. Before attempting to realize these in the form of a nation-state, they are often best sought though some form of federation, rather than unitary government, based upon establishment of effective security and authority at the local level.

American foreign policy must reject the idea that one perfect form of governance—described, established, and maintained forever—exists for all peoples. Americans might remember Confucius's test of governmental excellence: duration. Or they might use Spinoza's observation “that dominion is best where men pass their lives in unity and the laws are kept unbroken.” In any case, the United States must discard the conviction that “democracy” has any special sanctity. Excellence should be judged by results rather than by any idealized goal. This caution applies especially to pluralistic Western-style democracy's “true believers,” who tend to discount all other ways to distribute power or make decisions and thereby often ignore democracy's perils.

Sam C. Holliday is a graduate of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, a former director of Stability Studies at the Army War College, and a retired army colonel. He earned a masters in public affairs from the University of Pittsburgh and a doctorate in international relations from the University of South Carolina.

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