The Magazine

Don't Blame Democracy

It's still the solution--not the problem.

Nov 19, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 10 • By PETER WEHNER
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

In the aftermath of the heady days of 2005, James Q. Wilson cautioned that it takes a long time to convert a nation accustomed to authoritarian rule--and Saddam Hussein's regime was much worse than that--into one that embraces democratic rule. A rapid transition, he wrote, has never been possible, and ought not be expected. But that doesn't mean we should halt our effort to encourage the spread of liberty. Wilson pointed out that "no nation will aggressively dominate a region if its citizens can control its foreign policy through free and democratic elections."

Nations once thought to be incapable of self-government have shown they are more than capable, even as their ways do not mirror our own. Indonesia is different from India, which in turn is different from South Korea, which in turn is different from Senegal, which in turn is different from Canada. Because Iraq has proven to be a very complicated and difficult undertaking, this does not subvert the democratic idea, any more than Germany's election in 1933, which brought Hitler to power, did. Bear in mind, too, that American democracy lived with slavery for almost a century, and it required a bloody civil war to end it. Moreover, the alternatives to freedom--whether authoritarianism, despotism, or anti-modernism--are hardly the cornerstones on which to build tranquility and prosperity. The Arab Middle East was a cauldron of violence and instability long before George W. Bush took office.

The United States helped midwife freedom in a land of tears. It was a noble undertaking, among the most noble in our history, and it is worth seeing through to completion.

Peter Wehner, former deputy assistant to the president, is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.