Zakaria proscribes a road to a democratic Iraq

Old Blog Import

In Newsweek Fareed Zakaria proscribes a road to a democratic Iraq. Too bad Bush probably won’t read it. Here are some highlights:

What is called democracy in the West is really liberal democracy, a political system marked not only by free elections but also the rule of law, the separation of powers and basic human rights, including private property, free speech and religious tolerance. In the West, this tradition of liberty and law developed over centuries, long before democracy took hold. It was produced by a series of forces—the separation of church and state, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Reformation, capitalism and the development of an independent middle class.

….The key is to take the wealth out of the arbitrary control of the state. This could mean privatizing the oil industry. But in Iraq, the oil is largely in the Shiite, Kurdish and Turkoman areas, which could trigger ethnic conflict (as happened in Nigeria). Privatization would also probably enrich a few well-connected Iraqis and create corrupt oligarchs, as happened in Russia. So it might also be worth looking at the structure of the few well-run state petroleum companies—Malaysia’s Petronas, for example—as models.

But perhaps the best approach is to create a national trust—with transparent and internationally monitored accounting—into which all oil revenues flow. These revenues could be spent only in specified ways: on, for example, health care and education. The World Bank has been experimenting on such a model with Chad, the tiny oil-rich African state. Alaska is another successful version of this model. Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation points out that Alaska distributes its oil revenues directly to its residents, bypassing the corruption usually created by leaving it in the hands of governments or oligarchs. This is a variation of land reform, redistributing wealth broadly, which was crucial in spurring democracy in Japan and almost all other feudal societies.

…Diversity, properly handled, can be a great source of strength in Iraq. But power will have to be divided, shared and checked. The constitution of a new Iraq should create a federal state, with substantial local autonomy. The regions should not be all ethnically or religiously based. The electoral system should not create a “winner take all” system, in which a party that wins 51 percent of the vote gets all the political power. Let the losers share in the spoils. Have both a head of state (a president) and a head of government (a prime minister), another way to give some representation to various communities. So a Shiite prime minister could govern while a Kurdish president would be the titular head of state.