In an interesting development this week in the ongoing situation in Iraq, the administration’s efforts to speed up the handing over of power to Iraqis looked like it had may have suffered a serious setback when Ayatollah Sistani, possibly the most powerful and influential leader amongst the 60% majority Shiite population in the country, raised serious objections to the new Bush plans.
In the intervening few days since, negotiations and discussions have taken place between his spokesman and the Governing Iraqi Council, which may (and I stress may) have brought about a compromise of sorts.
However, under-pining this incident was a somewhat old problem that has been rumbling around in the background, unresolved for some time now.
Preaching you desire to bring democracy to the region is all very fine and well but just exactly what sort of democracy is that you are introducing into the Arab world if it is one based upon it’s acceptance only if the results of elections bring into power solely the people or parties that you are prepared to recognise and accept.
It was not merely that Ayatollah Sistani disagreed with the fact that he felt that the Bush administration’s proposals for introducing democracy were not speedy enough. His other reservation, more controversially, was that he wanted a clause created (presumably in a new drafted constitution) that would prohibit any legislation being drawn up that went against Islam.
Certainly this is not what the White House had in mind nor is it particularly conceivable that it would go along with setting up of a fundamentalist Islamic state.
But if the 60% Shiite population in Iraq elect something relatively close to just that in those very same democratically established elections then how absurd will it look for this result to become unacceptable to the US, thus arguably rendering the whole notion of democratising the region meaningless.
It is not the first time that George Bush’s theory has brushed up against the real life world of political reality.
In another part of the Arab world, this seemingly selective approach to democracy has proved a major stumbling block in trying to get his Road Map to Peace initiative between Palestine and Israel even into first gear.
In this scenario however, the election had already taken place and it’s results placed Yassar Arafat as the winner in 1998 in a vote that was supervised and approved by the U.N. afterwards.
Despite this, the Bush administration refuses to deal with the man.
It justifies this on the premise that Arafat is not man of peace who engages in and practices democracy himself and there is an illegitimate leader.
And yet if that is true then it is the prerogative of the Palestinian people to remedy this by vote him out of office democratically just as they put him there in the first place.
However you choose to address the problem, you cannot do so by means of an outside third party interfering in the choice of the electorate. Any remedy must be forthcoming from the voters in that country alone. They are the only ones who can legitimately effect change.
Indeed the real essence of democracy is not merely that you strive to defend its existence when it agrees with you but that you are also prepared to do so even when it does not.
Put simply, you cannot just conveniently pick and choose which parts of a free and fair election you are going to go along with. Either you are in or you are out on this one.
The whole procedure lacks credibility when you attempt to offer democracy to an entire Arabic region but only as long as they do not elect certain people.
It is tantamount to saying that you can choice any color that you want as long as it is red.
Little wonder then that religious extremists in that part of the world point to countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt and question why these are supported as allies of America when they do not practice democracy at all
Of course supporters of the Bush approach will decry this viewpoint on the premise that it would never happen in reality, and yet only this very same week we witnessed an example on the other side of the world from the Middle East where it was.
The General Assembly elections in Northern Ireland saw a major swing by the voters away from the more moderate Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) in favor of the significantly more hard line Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
It has caused consternation on all sides leaving both the British and Irish governments unsure as to where their peace process goes from here as the DUP have made abundantly clear their refusal to go along with it.
Even the White House sensed the problem with National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice issuing a statement urging all parties to adhere to the peace process in the form of the Good Friday Accord.
Whether the DUP will do so is hard to say and time will tell. Certainly its leadership in the form of the Reverend Ian Paisley has never been noted for his compromising approach to anything in politics in that region.
Notwithstanding that matter however is the fact that it took a very long time to get free and fair elections up and running again in Northern Ireland in the first place and, now that they are, one is left facing the irony of a legitimately popular party with no real interest in working with or listening to the views of anyone else which consequently may turn politics back by twenty years there.
Nevertheless, that’s how it works sometimes and, in the words of Art Spander, “the great thing about democracy is that it gives every voter a chance to do something stupid.”
So if you do not want to accept it for what it is, warts and all, then it’s best not to endlessly bandy around words like freedom 30 times in every speech.