TOPICS:Want democracy in Iraq?

Sen John McCain recently suggested that pacification of Iraq and the departure of American forces was feasible by 2013. But pacification of Iraq is not how President Bush defines success. The president recently restated his goal: to transform Iraq into democratic-modernity, much as Germany and Japan had been transformed during the military occupations that followed their defeat in World War II.

But Iraq is an Arab country, and no Arab country has yet been able to consolidate democracy, and that includes Jordan and Lebanon, the two that are most developed. By contrast, Germany and Japan were highly developed industrial nations with fully integrated and educated populaces. As in Iraq, these interventions combined elements of realpolitik and what Franklin Roosevelt’s Latin America expert Sumner Welles subsequently described as the role of the Evangel: to reform the conditions of life and government of the sovereign republics of the American hemisphere. But Welles concluded with respect to US-imposed democratic reform, “All sense of proportion was lost.”

The dubiousness of the Bush credo “These values of freedom are right and true for every person, in every society” is underscored by the aftermath of those prolonged military occupations. The US Marines occupied Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933 and attempted to install democratic institutions. But the occupation provoked an insurgency led by Augusto César Sandino, who became a symbol of resistance to US intervention. The Marines’ occupation of Haiti also provoked a militant reaction — the “Caco” insurgencies. The first insurgency was put down by the end of 1915. But a second insurgency, prompted in part by abuses of the US-trained Haitian Gendarmerie, erupted late in 1918. The Gendarmerie was unable to contain it, but the First US Marine Brigade succeeded in ending the uprising.

The democratic institutions installed by the United States soon started to unravel after the Marines left the Dominican Republic in 1924, and Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, who had been groomed by the Marines to lead the Dominican National Guard, assumed dictatorial powers in 1930 that would last for more than three decades. Trujillo was assassinated in 1961. The instability that followed precipitated another US military intervention in 1965 motivated principally by concern that the revolution would lead to a “second Cuba” in the Caribbean. The crisis passed, and democratic continuity was more or less established in 1966.

These three examples demonstrate how good intentions expressed through military force and money can be frustrated by cultures that are not congenial to democracy. Surely past and present Bush advisers such as Paul Wolfowitz and Condoleezza Rice have read Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic “Democracy in America.” But they — and Senator McCain — must have forgotten its overriding lesson: When it comes to the viability of democracy, more than anything else, culture matters. - The Christian Science Monitor