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A New Foreign Policy

Cultural relativism is the view that no culture is superior to any other culture when comparing systems of morality, law, politics, etc. It's the philosophical notion that all cultural beliefs are equally valid and that truth itself is relative, depending on the cultural environment.[1] During the 20th century, the United States seized the throne of democracy and became the world’s champion for democracy and freedom.  Whether it was during World War II, or subsequently throughout the Cold War, the United States has proven itself more than willing to come to the aid of democratic regimes throughout the world.  Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States government adopted a more preemptive approach towards dealing with perceived threats from abroad; this new doctrine, labeled the Bush Doctrine, culminated with the decision to invade Iraq in the spring of 2003.  One of the reasons cited by President Bush for the invasion was to spread freedom and bring democracy to the Iraqi nation.  This effort to “impose” American-style democracy on Iraq has faced criticism from many analysts who thought it quite unfeasible to simply transfer American democracy to a nation where the conditions differed greatly than in the United States.  Over a decade later, Iraq still lacks a functioning democratic government.  Was the Bush Doctrine misguided?  What conditions in Iraq make the implementation of American-style democracy so difficult and cumbersome?  Geography, historical developments, and religion (sectarianism) are the variables present within Iraq that hinder the successful installation and development of American-style democracy.  Utilizing Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America as the guiding tool, we can determine why the United States has struggled in its efforts to implement American-style democracy in Iraq.  It is my hope that this will lead to a new era of foreign relations and a new foreign policy.

European observers often credit accidental causes for the rise of democracy on the American continent.  More specifically, geography is cited as a major reason that democracy has been successfully implemented in the United States. Upon the arrival of the English in the early 17th century, America remained a boundless continent that had yet to be tamed by the hand of man.  As Tocqueville put it, “The Mississippi Valley is, all in all, the most magnificent dwelling that God has ever prepared for the habitation of man.”[2] Yet, Iraq is also home to a major river valley as well.  The Tigris and Euphrates Rivers form a region of the world that is known as the Fertile Crescent.  This area of the world is often referred to as the cradle of civilization, signifying its incredible historical importance.  Iraq possesses fertile land, great rivers, and is a major producer of one of the world’s most sought after commodities, oil.  Yet, democracy has failed to be successfully implemented in Iraq despite over ten years after the American invasion.  There must be more needed in order to ensure the survival of democratic institutions than the presence of arable land, rivers, and natural resources.

Another reason cited by Tocqueville as advantageous to the successful implementation and development of democracy in America is the lack of potentially aggressive or violent neighbors. Due to its geographic isolation, the United States was not forced to maintain large military forces; it had no reason to fear aggression from any of its neighbors.  As Tocqueville put it, “The Americans have no neighbors and consequently no great wars...nor a numerous army.”[3] As a result, the Americans were able to experiment with democracy seemingly within a vacuum, with little to no fear of the outside world.  Iraq, on the other hand, lies in perhaps the most volatile region on Earth.  To the East, lies Iran, a nation with whom Iraq engaged in a lengthy war during the 1980’s.  The Iranian regime, which is Shi’a, was at odds with the Sunni Baathist party led by Saddam throughout the dictator’s reign.  The first Gulf War occurred as a result of the decision by Saddam to invade Kuwait, Iraq’s southern neighbor.  United Nation forces, led by the United States and Great Britain launched an offensive attack to remove Saddam’s forces from Kuwait.  With little difficulty, they were able to do so.

As we have seen, geography played an instrumental role in the development of democracy in the United States. In Part 2, we will examine economics and historical conditions and their role in the growth of democracy.


[2] (Tocqueville 21).

[3] (Tocqueville 265).

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