Monday, November 14, 2005

The Democratic Dilemma to Foreign Policy

One of the big problems that dawns on me when I think about democracy in Middle Eastern countries pertains to foreign policy. Given the plurality that exists in most of the region's countries, and the specific nature of those pluralities (which entail loyalties to kinship and religious groups that cross state boundaries) can any democratic state arrive at a coherent and stable foreign policy?

This problem is merely one dimension of the larger question regarding whether the newly democratic state of Iraq, for example, can articulate and pursue "a common good" that all Iraqis will accept. The answer to that question is, of course, that it cannot, and cannot be expected to. The federal system in the United States, for example, allows for different states to define and pursue their unique conceptions of the common good within certain limits. Yale Political Scientist, Robert Dahl, has the following to say on the issue: pluralistic societies, conceptions of the common good are either too indeterminate to provide guidance, determinate but unacceptable because they lead us to appalling results in conditions that are by no means improbable, or determinate and acceptable because purely procedural - because they define the common good as a democratic process.

Going back to foreign policy though, it is no big secret that despite the relative freedom the states in the US have to pursue their own conceptions of the common good, they are bound to the Federal Government's foreign policy decisions. Can we say the same about Iraq? Can Iraqis formulate their own foreign policy interests and objectives, or are they going to perpetually remain torn between the Sunni, Shi'a and Kurdish world views?

If we look at Lebanon as a sign of things to come, then I am afraid the future does not bode will for Iraq's Foreign Ministry. Yet, Iraq unlike Lebanon, has the potential to play a major geostrategic role in the region because of its geographic size and natural resources. It will be interesting to see whether Iraq's different sects are able formulate a common foreign policy or whether each political center in the country will pursue its own agenda independent of the central government.

This democratic transformation of Iraq may ultimately lead to a situation in which the state will never be able to utilize its full potential to pursue foreign policy objectives. Frankly, considering Saddam's recent track record, I prefer the impotence of plurality over the vigor of dictatorship.

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