USAID's Paul Bonicelli

"USAID's Paul Bonicelli" Continued...

Issue: "The people have spoken," Feb. 4, 2006

WORLD What do you say to those who doubt that democracy in Iraq can survive after the Americans pull out?

BONICELLI The administration believes it will survive because of how well it has gone so far. Every political benchmark-despite incredible violence launched to thwart self-governance-has been met, from the establishment of a transitional government, to a vote for a temporary government while a constitution is voted on, and now the election of a permanent government. As long as the U.S. is committed to finishing the job of helping rebuild Iraq and support democracy, and the Iraqi people desire to govern themselves in a republic, there is great promise of success. The Iraqi people are like any other people besieged by aggressors inside and outside of Iraq who want to thwart their will to establish a democratic society; such people often need the aid of the powerful and willing democratic states, and that is the role that the international community is playing.

WORLD What roles do values and religion play in promoting democracy in a country without a democratic tradition?

BONICELLI For democracy to work well, you definitely need a respect for human life, respect for the dignity of the individual, fairness, justice, a belief that the good citizen is one who is welcomed in society as being an honest broker, playing fair, those kinds of values. You need confidence in the future, the idea that human beings can take responsibility for their actions, both individually and collectively, and improve their lives. If you're fatalistic and just see life as happening to you, and there are places in the world like that, then voting doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. Or, if you believe you have the right to dictate to others, either out of malice or an inflated sense of your own worth and benevolence, then you will probably be an enemy of democracy.

There's a great book called Culture Matters, edited by [Lawrence E.] Harrison and [Samuel P.] Huntington. It arose out of a Harvard symposium. The authors came from different perspectives, but almost all of them concluded that, yes, with qualifications, the factor that matters most in promoting democracy among a people is culture. If the culture is conducive to patron-client relationships, paternalism, or authoritarian government, it's very hard to break through that. Many of the authors note that people can change the way they see the world, see their fellow man, and how society ought to operate. After decades or centuries of oppression, hope can arise for a better life. In other words, culture can change-Japan and Germany are now democracies, Jim Crow is dead, South Africa is a republic, and Kurds and Shia and Sunni Muslims in Iraq are working out their differences even if it is a painstaking effort.

One of those authors is a former USAID worker for the Kennedy Administration. He was a part of the '60s approach of spending a lot of money in Latin America and just sitting back and waiting, and expecting in five years to have democracy and capitalism all over Latin America. When it didn't happen, he said, why not? He concluded after years of research that it is because of culture. If people don't change the habits of mind and the practices that lend themselves to oppression and fatalism, you never get democracy.

Les Sillars
Les Sillars

Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and is the editor of WORLD's Mailbag section.


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