Which comes first, democracy or security?
It’s a trick question, like the one about the chicken and egg. The truth is they must come simultaneously.
And ay, there’s (as Hamlet would say) the rub, because in chaotic third-world nations—Pakistan comes immediately to mind, of course—the two exist in very uneasy and difficult-to-implement equilibrium.
Democracy requires a certain amount of openness and civility. Despite accusations of dirty campaigning in this country, and the recent increase of post-election sour grapes, elections are a tea party here compared to most of the world.
As Amir Taheri writes in today’s Times Online:
Whoever killed Benazir belonged to one of the nebulae of organisations that have vowed to kill not only those who stand for election but also those who vote. Their slogan is: “From box to box!” This means that, by slipping one’s vote into a ballot box, one risks ending up in a coffin.
This transcends one candidate vs. another, although the terrorists had special reason to hate Benazir Bhutto. This is about the process of democracy itself.
We often hear the slogan “There is no military solution in Iraq.” There is no democratic solution, either. The only solution must contain both elements. We in the West tend to forget that because the element of security is so firmly in place for us.
One of the effects of 9/11 was to undermine that feeling of security for us. The threat, however, was not internal, but external; the perpetrators were visitors from another culture and another world. Of necessity, in that culture and that world, security is usually provided in a heavy-handed manner.
Whatever one thinks of Musharraf and his recent racheting up of repressive measures in Pakistan, and the question of whether he purposely left Bhutto with inadequate security, or even of Bhutto’s checkered career when she was in power in Pakistan, it’s plain that the violence of those who would subvert the democratic process in Pakistan requires a leader who must be willing to apply a level of security that can be read as tyranny to outside observers. It’s not always easy to tell the difference between true tyranny and the toughness that is necessary to secure a government and a democratic process in a country rife with powerful and ruthless forces that are dedicated to tearing it down.
The assassination of JFK in this country represented a moment when we imagined we could feel the hot breath of that chaos on our necks. But in truth we were nowhere near that point. A few relatively simple precautions for presidents—including the prohibition of motorcades with open cars—seem to have taken care of the problem so far. We did, however, lose a certain innocence—a naivete we probably should have lost long ago, when Lincoln was assassinated—and have retained an extra feeling of vulnerability ever since.
Imagine, however, what it must be like to live in a country with a history of assassination and execution as a commonplace way to take care of political rivals. Unfortunately, the world contains all too many such countries. That’s one of the reasons our experiment in Iraq is so fraught with peril, and why recent encouraging signs there are so important.
There are those who say, along with commenter Tim P, that:
Once the population refuses to be cowed and begins to actively oppose the terrorists, they can no longer operate nearly as effectively. We have seen that in Iraq.
They have forgotten the all-important element provided by American security. Whether it be the postwar influx of terrorists in Iraq, or the prewar tyranny of Saddam, the people of Iraq were powerless to resist without the guarantee of at least a modicum of security.
In Iraq, the hope now is that, ultimately, the people of Iraq themselves will be able to provide that security. But it would not have possible without our initial help. Saddam’s net was way too tight, and his own “security” way too effective. Then later, the terrorists took advantage of the postwar chaos to get their own tight grip on many areas of the country.
That grip has been loosened now in Iraq, and there’s a promise of better things to come. But it remains fragile there. Pakistan has not had a recent war, but it seems at least as fragile right now.
No, I’m not suggesting a US invasion for Pakistan; even a neocon has no interest in invading all the failed and chaotic countries of the world. But the problem there is very real, and is not going away by itself, nor by the magic of a democratic election alone.