Man Without Qualities

Sunday, January 19, 2003

Japan Or Turkey In Iraq?

Stanley Kurtz compares post-war Japan with modern Iraq, and concludes on the basis of many historical and structural differences between those two countries that it will be much harder to introduce democracy into Iraq now than it was to do so in Japan after World War II.

His argument has a lot of merit, but it would be worth his while for Mr. Kurtz also to consider the situation in the very Islamic Ottoman Empire just before it became the much-less-Islamic and much-more-democratic Turkey. Turkish democracy is certainly not now perfect and never has been, but it is just as certainly real democracy. If Turkish style democracy can flourish in Iraq, the world will be a much better place than it is now.

Iraq was for centuries part of the Ottoman Empire. Many of the factors Mr. Kurtz cites as hostile to democracy in Iraq applied with even more virulence in the Ottoman Empire. But democratic Turkey was born, anyway. And democratic Turkey was born from within - without the need for any imposition of democracy by foreign occupation, although even Istanbul was briefly occupied by Greek and Western forces after the First World War and Ottoman failure in that campaign and in many prior foreign wars did a lot to discredit the government.

Japan and Turkey have some interesting parallels. For example, the post-WWI social revolution in Turkey was imposed "from the top down" - and so were the Meiji Restoration reforms in Japan. Just as the historic factors against democracy in Iraq may not be as bad as Mr. Kurtz suggests, neither were the factors favoring democracy in Japan necessarily as favorable as he suggests. For example, Mr. Kurtz cites to some Japanese democratic traditions and structures that survived through the 1920's. But, three prime ministers were murdered between 1912 and 1926 and 3 out of 11 Japanese prime ministers were murdered from 1918 to 1932. Japan had no fixed system of laws until 1945. It did have maxims and concepts of justice - but it had no penal code, no system of statutory law and no judge-controlled system of common law and its constitution was highly uncertain in comparison to those of Western nations (even those with unwritten constitutions). The law was not sovereign because pre-WWII Japan was at least nominally a theocracy, but even the meaning of this theocracy was not certain. There were many radical societies that expressly advocated and practiced assassination, including the Ketsumedian, which was dedicated to the assassination of industrialists and financiers. Using a Thompson sub-machine gun and the like was an especially popular way of criticizing one's political opponents in 1920's Japan, especially after 1924 when the armed forces were "reformed" to bring in a lot more nutty officers. In 1932 a group of army and navy officers actually planned to kill Charlie Chaplin - who had dropped by for tea with the prime minister, who was also to be killed - expressly to spark a war with the United States. None of the foregoing was exactly indicative of a well functioning democracy or the deep entrenchment of democratic principles in pre-WWII Japan.

So I'm not so sure that the prospects for democracy in Iraq are as dire as Mr. Kurtz or his factors suggest.

MORE: From todays (Monday's) Wall Street Journal.

QUALITY REPLY: From Mr. Kurtz in the Corner.

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