Liberal democracy, on the other hand, is stable, because liberal norms of protecting minorities and settling issues through persuasion and open procedures reinforce the strength of the democratic institutions, and the democratic institutions underline the importance of accompanying liberal norms. This is why it's foolish to try and rush elections in Iraq -- unless the groundwork has been properly laid, unless Iraqis have had some time to get accustomed to arguing peacefully about politics, unless they've had time to understand that they can trust a free press in ways that they couldn't trust the Saddam-controlled press, etc., then elections will produce, at best, an unstable democracy.
His comments echo Fareed Zakaria's thesis (made in his book The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad) that what really matters is establishing liberal democratic institutions and the rule of law, not merely holding elections and turning over the reigns of power to the winning candidates. Here are some excerpts from a Sept. 16, 2003 opinion piece in the Washington Post written by Mr. Zakaria entitled "Don't Rush to Disaster":
Iraq may not be a failed state, but it is a highly dysfunctional one. It has been through three decades of totalitarian rule, three wars, 13 years of economic sanctions and massive internal repression. Its ministries are organized along Stalinist lines. Its people have been cowed into submission for decades. It will take some time to reform the Iraqi state and heal Iraq's political culture. An immediate transfer of power would retard and perhaps even reverse this process of reform. New political leaders would seek to use the Iraqi state to consolidate their power, not limit its reach. That is what happened in Bosnia. Once elected, ethnic thugs didn't want to build the rule of law; they wanted to use the law to stay in office.
Popular sovereignty is a great thing, but a constitutional process is greater still. The French know this. The French Revolution emphasized popular sovereignty with little regard to limitations on state power. The American founding, by contrast, was obsessed with constitution-making. Both countries got to genuine democracy. But in France it took two centuries, five republics, two empires and one dictatorship to get there. Surely we want to do it better in Iraq.
Aside from questioning the wisdom of an immediate transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis there is, in my opinion, good reason to suspect the motives of the French and Kofi Anan for advocating an early pull out. Fareed Zakaria:
It is strange that U.N. officials argue that we must quickly move, in Kofi Annan's phrase, from "the logic of occupation" to that of Iraqi sovereignty. The United Nations has blessed and assisted in the occupation of Bosnia, where it took seven years to transfer power to the locals. It boasts of "the logic of occupation" in Kosovo, which has gone smoothly for the past four years, with no prospect of ending anytime soon. It administered tiny East Timor for two years before handing over power. Does Kofi Annan really think that what took seven years in Bosnia can take one year in Iraq, with six times as many people? It is touching to learn of the French faith in the Governing Council. When the council was set up, the French government (as well as the Germans) refused to endorse it, privately disparaging the group as American puppets. It took a month for the United States to get France to vote in the Security Council simply to welcome the formation of the Governing Council. France's newfound love for the council is simply an attempt to get the United States out as soon as possible.
And a quote from Tom Friedman's now infamous opinion piece "Our War with France":
France wants America to fail in Iraq. France wants America to sink in a quagmire there in the crazy hope that a weakened U.S. will pave the way for France to assume its "rightful" place as America's equal, if not superior, in shaping world affairs.
If France were serious, it would be using its influence within the European Union to assemble an army of 25,000 Eurotroops, and a $5 billion reconstruction package, and then saying to the Bush team: Here, we're sincere about helping to rebuild Iraq, but now we want a real seat at the management table. Instead, the French have put out an ill-conceived proposal, just to show that they can be different, without any promise that even if America said yes Paris would make a meaningful contribution.
But then France has never been interested in promoting democracy in the modern Arab world, which is why its pose as the new protector of Iraqi representative government — after being so content with Saddam's one-man rule — is so patently cynical.
France's position on Iraqi sovereignty, as with its position on the invasion of Iraq, is a tactical one; it's overriding strategic interest is to curb America's influence in the region and the wider world.
MORE: Tom Friedman and a couple of Stanford profs wiegh in on the subject. Also two Francophone Canadians suggest that France's preferrence for an early transfer of sovereignty is borne of its memory of its own occupation during WWII and the circumstances surrounding its recovery.