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In his latest post, presidential-candidate-with-a-blog Gary Hart offers a popular criticism of the desire to democratize Iraq:
But serious foreign policy thinkers have pointed out that "democracy" is not necessarily liberality. What if, for example, the first "free" Iraqi elections produce President Mullah Omar? Do we then overthrow a democratically elected theocracy? Has Dick Cheney thought this far ahead?

The remainder of Hart's post suggests he hasn't come up with a great answer either. His feeling seems to be that he wants to avoid getting in the situation of installing a democracy that becomes anti-American. I can sympathize with that sentiment. Nevertheless, by the time Hart would be in the White House he may be forced to make such a choice. Dick Cheney has another two years to make the US responsible for an anti-American democracy, and then it will be up to Hart (if he wins) to decide what to do about it.

This is an instance of a problem that the Democratic candidates are all going to have to deal with. It's all well and good to criticize Bush for how he ought to have handled the war. But come 2004, we'll be occupying Iraq, and whoever wins the election will have to make the most of the situation we're in.

My solution? It's hard to say without a specific case before me, but I think the general guiding principle can be taken from the philosophy behind the Bill of Rights. The presumption of legitimacy must rest on democracy, even when democracy produces results we don't like. A functional liberal order is built on a respect for the process over the results -- so, for example, dissatisfied Democrats didn't start riots when they lost the midterm Congressional election. This is necessary both for the fostering of real Iraqi civil society, and for redeeming the US's claim to the moral highground in international politics. But there must be established certain bedrock principles -- things like freedom of speech and ethnic and gender equality before the law -- that are so fundamental to the liberal order that they cannot be democratically overturned. Electing an Iraqi Mullah Omar would be a case of going too far, using the democratic process against the principles that make democracy legitimate.


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