Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Vying for influence: US and EU approaches to Iraqi democracy

Richard Youngs, in his books on European democracy promotion (2006), presents an account of the differing ways in which the US and EU have engaged with the post-conflict scenario in Iraq. Within the EU itself, there existed divergences between coalition partners and other states, particularly France.

As expected from previous EU-led democracy initiatives, the EU has largely administered containment logic in Iraq, and avoided overtly political initiatives. The reason for this is the difference in US and EU strategies as well as a lack of consensus between EU member states. It is stuck between (eventually) incorporating Iraq into the European Neighbourhood Policy, which would divert large sums from other democracy promotion in other states, and abandoning Iraq solely to American interests. Moreover, if Turkey succeeds in gaining accession, Iraq will become a direct neighbour, posing a greater security threat incongruent with Europe’s penchant for stabilization.

The lack of European consensus and its disinclination to commit to a political platform has no doubt stifled progress on democracy development. Despite its top-down interventionist approach, the United States can at least be praised for engaging politics and dealing with the question of sovereignty and establishing some democratic norms and institutions, notwithstanding the subservient client government it subsequently installed. Youngs’ article relates Europe’s attempt to channel programmes through the UN in order to curtail US dominance in Iraq.

 In its failed bid to show itself the strong man of Europe, France went it alone in its degree of opposition to the US-led invasion. For its part Germany depoliticized its aid donations to Iraq by instramentalizing the UN so as to hide it from the German (voting) pubic. All of this demonstrates European states’ unilateral and self-serving approach. Not only did individual states act contrary to the interest of democracy by dealing only with humanitarian issues, but they also missed the opportunity to form a united stance able to challenge the US, or at least not to have to lean on the UN.

It appears that Europe is refraining from involvement in Iraq and its transition to democratic statehood as it is not willing to commit to a long term strategy, but wants to wait until Iraq is stable enough for it to exploit its interests there. Political aid was withheld pending an agreement to strengthen the role of the UN in Iraq. The EU even went as far as to make aid conditional on it not being spent on US contractors despite the fact that conditionality is rarely instramentalized by the EU.

Although the EU has long held a soft-power, bottom-up approach to democracy promotion, this doesn’t fully explicate its Iraq policy, as minimal donations were forthcoming for political development even to NGOs. At the same time, the EU must also exercise caution in allying itself too closely with the US, so as to differentiate itself and retain credibility as a democracy actor. Nevertheless, the absence of a strategy for Iraq indicates the EU’s discordance and myopia.
The EU has already committed to deepening economic relations with Iraq, having recommended WTO membership. Yet a cursory glance at the EU’s relations with other MENA states suggests that this will not lead to any meaningful efforts to develop democracy. 

The war has provided Europe with an opportunity to encourage real democracy in Iraq. In other Middle Eastern states, the EU entrenches authoritarian governments to protect itself from destabilization. The instable state of post-war Iraq offered Europe an opportunity to altruistically guide democratization, and become a model for other ENP states.

It appears from Youngs’s work that the EU has attempted to place itself as a counter-balance to the US in Iraq to prevent its dominance in international affairs. Despite the pro-Atlanticist stance of the UK, it nonetheless differed with the US in that it preferred cooperating with local communities on a small scale on issues such as rehabilitating Baathists into the political process. The accusation that the UK was America’s ‘lap dog’ is truer of Tony Blair rather than the general British government.

As is clear from the article by Tessler et al*, Iraqis (and Arabs in general) overwhelming want democracy. Furthermore, their study demonstrates that broad consensus in support of democracy exists across ethnoreligious lines, with only minor divergences. This should be understood as evidence that an Iraqi government that proportionally represents the population would not face major opposition, notwithstanding a comparatively small amount of extremists. Therefore, the EU should proceed with advocating the emergence of such a government as quickly as possible, not only to provide Iraqis with what they actually want, but also to mitigate Kurdish separatists and pro-Iranian Shia, as political participation will incorporate them into a national strategy and quell violence. Furthermore, the EU and US must cooperate rather than compete in their foreign policies, which will prevent a clash of interests that stalls democratization. Having an EU representative for Iraq will also prove beneficial for cooperation with the Iraqi government since it will provide a single, unified EU policy that is more likely to be moderate and reflective of overall EU objectives and parochial ones.

* Tessler, Mark, Mansoor Moaddel, and Ronald F. Inglehart. 2006. "What Do Iraqis Want?" Journal of Democracy, 17(1): 38-50.

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