Tuesday 22 August 2017
Sense from Trump: well, welll well!
To me the most significant sentence from President Trump's "Afghanistan" speech yesterday is this:
"...we will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands or try to rebuild other countries in our own image."
British imperialist (and there are still many around) please note. And they're not all Tories: I think Tony Blair called it "Liberal Interventionism."
The mistake has been to think you can dump yourself on another country, institute "free elections" and walk away thinking you have created a democracy.
Any text-book will tell you that there are many ingredients which together form a democracy. These include: freedom of speech and assembly (including the rights of organised labour); respect for human rights; a free press; a measure of equality; an independent judiciary; the rule of law, to which the government is subject; separation of powers; several tiers of government with defined responsibilities; and yes, a peaceful means of changing the government, normally by regular elections with a universal franchise.
Which of these ingredients comes first will vary from country to country. In the UK the universal franchise came quite late in the day, and, given that it still excludes sixteen and seventeen year olds some (though not me) would argue that it is still not quite universal enough. Even in relatively mature democracies such as the UK and the US, there is still much room for improvement. In the US, for example, Mrs Clinton received three million more votes than Mr Trump, and some states still execute people. In the UK the duties and independence of local government are not entrenched but subject to the whims of Westminster.
And regular readers will not be surprised to know that I believe the type of electoral system is crucial. First-past-the-post (FPTP) is a recipe for disaster in those countries where there are several ethnic groups and one is dominant (as several African countries have discovered.) Even where the population is relatively homogeneous, as in the UK, FPTP leads to woefully inefficient government.
So the conclusion must be that neither the US system, nor the Westminster system which the UK has proudly imposed on umpteen former colonies, fits the bill for each and every situation. Some countries may welcome a little help from their friends, but each must find their own ways.