Democracy is not a flower. It can’t be transplanted and it certainly doesn’t grow from the barrel of guns. The best way to think of democracy is as a building. It starts out as a fragile hut constructed of sticks. They are interwoven for strength but are still fragile. The individual sticks (think of rights) may fail and the whole structure may collapse at anytime. As time passes, however, we cover the sticks in mortar which makes the whole thing stronger. As we mature, we gradually replace the sticks and mortar with more solid structures — perhaps heavy beams and solid stones held together by design and strong cement. These are our laws and traditions. Like houses, every democracy is different, built to accommodate the needs of the family that lives within it. Overtime, we may build roads to connect our houses or build community centres where the families can meet to discuss larger issues affecting them all.
I didn’t go to all that trouble to build an extended metaphor just to show I could. We need to think of democracy and law and freedom in ways that constantly remind us that they are constructs and that they, like houses, need constant maintenance if they are not to fall into disrepair.
Take the mission that George W. Bush set for himself — to bring democracy to Iraq — or more broadly the mission of the Afghan mission — to over throw tyranny. How has that worked out?
The countries of the Middle East are perfectly capable of building their own system of government — and it can be based on rights and freedoms and democratic mechanisms. Though it might not look like ours. But all those efforts to plant the seeds of democracy have merely disturbed the ground —- damaged the very foundations of order and security.
The real question now is: where do we go from here? How do we get to a place where each intervention — whether well-meaning, misguided or plain wrong — does not make matters worse? I suspect, we need to step back from so-called pacification efforts and return to actual peace-making. The former is something you do to people and the latter is something you do with people.
It won’t be easy. Peace-making is complicated and has its own pitfalls. It certainly is not as immediately satisfying as dropping bombs and assassinating bad guys. The pro-war faction point to the downfall of Al Qaeda as a success without acknowledging the rise of ISIL to take its place. Fundamental problems underlie all this — and beneath that? Money and oil.
Meanwhile at home, our gleaming towers of metal and glass — our liberty and progress — are being undermined from within. Not by foreign terrorists but by those who would have us be afraid of the world, have us tear down our palaces and retreat to bunkers.
But that’s ten minutes.