The Iraqi elections turned out to be an unqualified success, and I’m very happy about that. I’m somewhat less happy about the attempts before the elections to set standards of voter participation and security by which to measure the legitimacy of the elections. The unspoken expectation of those who did it was that they could have disqualified the vote if it didn’t measure up to the unrealistic standards set by themselves. But what would it have mattered if hardly any Sunnis had shown up? And what if the terrorists had succeeded in killing large numbers of voters? The responsibility would have rested on the terrorists, and nobody else.
Anyway. Iraq is very likely not the last Islamic dictatorship to fall during GWB’s tenure, so I would like to propose, for future reference, a simple criterion for legitimacy (for it really isn’t necessary to jump over every stick the anti-war crowd is holding up for us):
The new form of government shall be considered legitimate if it offers more freedom and better conditions of living than the previous one, and also offers room for further improvement within the same system, that is without a further revolution.
You probably noticed that I’m not mentioning democracy. That is because it might not be possible to hold elections as soon as in Iraq, for the security situation in countries like Syria (apart from some Druze and Kurds, almost all Syrians are Sunni Arabs) and Iran (three times the size of Iraq and a population of 65 million, with a corresponding potential for problems) might be much worse than in Iraq. But as long as the criterion I set above is met, I don’t see how this would diminish the (as yet potential) new governments’ legitimacy, for it would yet again be the responsibility of the terrorists in those countries, and anyway, there are plenty of internationally recognized governments that are not democratic.
If there actually are elections, they also don’t have to be perfect the first, or even the third or fourth, time around, depending on local conditions at the time. There will be plenty of time to work out any problems. The same goes for rule of law; it would be nice if it could be imposed from the start, but that, too, takes time, and probably longer than democracy itself; Western countries had rule of law centuries before they became democratic, after all. Learning from the West, and the Iraqi example, they probably will be able to muddle through in the meantime; not that Iraq has real rule of law as of yet, but it certainly is muddling through very well.
For all my optimism I don’t expect any of this to be easy, but this time around let’s at least strangle frivolous debates about ‘illegitimacy’ in the cradle. If the people in those countries are made better off as a result of the process then it is legitimate – period.