``A republic, if you can keep it."
-- Benjamin Franklin, upon leaving the Constitutional Convention, in answer to ``What have we got?"
WASHINGTON -- We have given the Iraqis a republic and they do not appear able to keep it.
Americans flatter themselves that they are the root of all planetary evil. Nukes in North Korea? Poverty in Bolivia? Sectarian violence in Iraq? Breasts are beaten and fingers pointed as we try to somehow locate the root cause in America.
Our discourse on Iraq has followed the same pattern. Where did we go wrong? Too few troops? Too arrogant an occupation? Or too soft? Take your pick.
I have my own theories. In retrospect, I think we made several serious mistakes -- not shooting looters, not installing an Iraqi exile government right away, and not taking out Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army in its infancy in 2004 -- that greatly compromised the occupation. Nonetheless, the root problem lies with Iraqis and their political culture.
Our objectives in Iraq were twofold and always simple: depose Saddam and replace his murderous regime with a self-sustaining, democratic government.
The first was relatively easy. But Iraq's first truly democratic government turned out to be hopelessly feeble and fractured, little more than a collection of ministries handed over to various parties, militias and strongmen.
The problem is not, as we endlessly argue about, the number of American troops. Or of Iraqi troops. The problem is the allegiance of the Iraqi troops. Some serve the abstraction called Iraq. But many swear fealty to political parties, religious sects or militia leaders.
Are the Arabs intrinsically incapable of democracy, as the ``realists'' imply? True, there are political, historical, even religious reasons why Arabs are less prepared for democracy than, say, East Asians and Latin Americans who successfully democratized over the last several decades. But the problem here is Iraq's particular political culture, raped and ruined by 30 years of Saddam's totalitarianism.
What was left in its wake was a social desert, a dearth of the trust and good will and sheer human capital required for democratic governance. All that was left for the individual Iraqi to attach himself to was the mosque or clan or militia. At this earliest stage of democratic development, Iraqi national consciousness is as yet too weak and the culture of compromise too undeveloped to produce an effective government enjoying broad allegiance.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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