Faculty Advisory Committee Meeting
April 9, 2003
Theme: "Case Studies of Democratization" and "U.S. Policy Towards Democracy"
The Seminar was co-chaired by Dr. Robert A. Paster, Director of the Center for Democracy and Election Management and Dr. Neil Kerwin, Provost, American University. The Seminar was attended by Bob Ayers, Assistance Vice President of International Affairs and 10 AU Faculty including Professor Emeritus Richard Smolka, Professors Jeffrey Reiman, Peter Lewis, Diane Singerman, Abdul Aziz Said, Quanshang Zhao, Louise Shelley. Four non-faculty also attended including Michelle Shimpf of USAID.
Diane Singerman gave a presentation on Civil Society and Monarchial Authoritarianism in the Middle East. Singerman argued that what had kept democracy from flourishing in the region was the concentration of power amongst family or kin group structures that was reinforced by large militaries. In some countries of the Middle East, military spending was as high as 17% of GDP compared to the NATO average of 4.5%. Efforts to "import" democracy into the region had failed because the prevailing view that democracy was a "Western" concept. The most promising efforts to promote democratic development in the region were led by the Islamic and women's human right's movements which had both employed a strategy of legal activism to accelerate the pace of democratic reforms. As a legal strategy was most certainly preferable to armed struggle, it was necessary for external actors interested the democratic development of the Middle East to support these groups.
Professor Abdul Aziz Said of SIS focused his presentation on the transition to democracy in Iraq. For Said, democracy was a learned behavior that took time to flourish in all societal contexts. For this reason, democratic development in Iraq would likely fail if it was imposed by the US occupying force or by Iraqi elites. While some supported the development of a "secular" democracy in Iraq, it was vital to recognize that for democracy to take root in the Middle East, it would necessarily have to reconcile and coexist with Islam for it not to be viewed as a "Western" concept. Islam could play a positive role in democratic development because like other religions, its moral teachings could be used as a reference to which rulers could be held accountable for the protection of individual rights and adherence to principles of good governance. Islamic scholars interested in democratic development could learn from Christianity's struggle to determine its proper role within Western democracies. Said concluded that the current state of chaos in Iraq would likely continue for an extended period as it would take some time for the roots of democracy to develop.
Professor Quanshang Zhao of SIS presented on the prospects for democracy in China and noted that recent events showed both positive and negative signs for the future prospects for democracy. Some positive developments were the successful village elections with multiple candidates, the observance of term limits by the top, increasing prevalence and toleration of private entrepreneurship and the emergence of independent public policy "think tanks". An overarching problem impeding democracy continued to be the fact that the Communist Party still maintained too much power over society. The Taiwanese experience of "bottom-up" democratic development (experimenting with local elections first) demonstrated that democracy could succeed in a Chinese context. While Chinese progress towards democracy was mixed, democracy would eventually suceed in China because of significant economic and social pressures.
Professor Louise Shelley of the School of Public Affairs and Director of the Center for Transnational Organized Crime and Corruption presented on "Impediments to Democratization in the Post-Soviet Space." One of the major reasons behind the high prevalence of corruption in post-Soviet countries was the fact former Soviet leaders stayed in power in the newly established democracies and assumed control over state property for personal gain. The consequence of these actions was increasing inequality and a rapid collapse of new democracies with the reemergence of repressive authoritarian governments. The rise of transnational crime had also created a new form of authoritarianism as the government bureaucracy, police, prosecution and judiciary had all become largely corrupted. While the redistribution of property in Russia had strengthened its democracy, this policy action had yet to occur in other former Soviet States. Outside of Russia and the Ukraine, Shelly did not foresee any prospects for democratic success in the region within the next generation.
The Seminar discussion focused almost exclusively on the prospects for democracy in Iraq. While a large number of participants agreed that democratic development would take a substantial amount of time, there was an extensive debate over to what extent the bureaucratic sector of the former Iraqi government should be utilized in the formation of a new government. Participants debated whether the German model of complete "Denazification" or a Polish model of inclusion of former Communist Government officials was most appropriate. Others noted that more military police were required to restore order so that that the process of drafting a new constitution and building of new democratic institutions could begin.
The US role in promoting democracy in the world was also debated. While it was recognized that the US plays an important and unique role in this respect, participants stressed the need for greater attention to indigenous involvement and more patient timelines for democratic development. It was also mentioned that US policy often got too personalized as in the case of US support for President Boris Yeltsin. Michelle Shimpf of USAID noted that while the US had some negative baggage in its experience in promoting democracy, it was necessary to recognize that insufficient local responsibility and the long timeframe needed to establish democracy were also to blame for some failures to establish democracy.
Dr. Pastor concluded the discussion with the observation that democracy was a long-term struggle. While democracy was a universal aspiration, the main obstacle to democracy in the Middle East was the actions of authoritarian leaders to prevent democracy. Pastor noted that the examples of Germany, Japan, Italy, Grenada and Panama demonstrated that democracy would be imposed by war but it was clearly not the best method. There was a contradiction between the short and long term goals of US policy in Iraq with the US wanting to get out as soon as possible but the experience of democracy showing that democratic success would significant time to develop.