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Democracy in the U.S. and Iraq

By Brendan Brooks

Posted March 22, 2007

I walked down a quiet, tree-lined street, taking in the brisk fall air and staring at the white page handed to me an hour earlier by campaign staff.

It is filled with tiny black numbers and letters, but one in particular stands out. A tiny “4” leaps out from the page next to the address of the house I’m approaching. Four is a small number, but it is extremely significant for me. It means that the person I’m about to talk to is a likely Rich Tarrant voter and could hold strong feelings about the candidate I’m working for, Bernie Sanders.

I knock on the door warily and a middle-aged woman answers. I begin with the scripted greeting: “Hello, my name is Brendan Brooks and I am here with the Sanders for Senate campaign. Congressman Sanders would like to know what issues are important to voters this election cycle. What issue is most important to you?”

She pauses, and a younger man walks up to the door behind her. “Getting Bernie Sanders out of office!” he exclaims, undoubtedly noting my red Sanders for Senate shirt. The woman smirks in agreement, and I stutter, “Well, thanks for your time.”

Politics can be brutal. Long-held beliefs and deep values often dictate whom we vote for, and those who disagree may appear ignorant or foolish. At times, our dislike of the opponent can lead to anger and rude behavior. We yell, swear, and argue disrespectfully with the opposition.

This short exchange serves as one example of the intense feelings that citizens harbor about politics. As bad as things seem, however, politics in other countries can be quite a bit worse, especially where there is no tradition of compromise and solving problems.

In Iraq, violence is the norm today, with constant suicide bombings and roadside explosions. Elections were held, but no one can think the result is a true democratic state. The ultimate problem with Iraqi democracy right now is that no respect exists for the political system. The Iraqi people were under a dictatorship for decades. Someone else always made political decisions for them, ruling by force and intimidation. Regardless of whether the Sunni, Shia, or Kurds control the government, the opposing party will resort to violence and terrorism. Iraqi citizens have never known real democracy, and therefore do not truly understand the intricacies of a democratic system or how to bring about political change.

One of the most appealing aspects of U.S. democracy is that all adults can be involved in the political system, if they choose. Every citizen 18 or older can vote and minors can easily be involved in the political process, just as I was last fall, huffing and puffing from door to door. During the country’s 200-plus years as an established democracy, we have created a common vision as to what our country should be. Ultimately, there is always compromise. Traditional divisions such as race and religion have become less and less important and we have come together more as a nation. Iraq has not developed like the United States; the religious divisions of Sunni and Shia are far too deep-seated for the Iraqis to emulate the U.S. political system. There is a tremendous population imbalance in Iraq. The country is 60 percent Shia, 20 percent Sunni, and 20 percent Kurd. The rule of Saddam Hussein put the Sunnis in power, and largely excluded the Shia from the government. With a popularly elected government, the opposite has happened — today, the Shia hold power.

Many people believe the United States can impose a democratic system in Iraq. They believe that with a few more years, all of the Iraqi people will respect their government and eventually copy the United States or Western Europe.

The U.S. system of democracy was established and nurtured through the early years by citizen-patriots who had experienced the fight for independence firsthand.

Ultimately, however, the Iraqi people must initiate the democratic process themselves, and develop their own non-violent decision-making process, and most of all endure the struggles that come with this process for their democratic system to be accepted by the people.

Brendan Brooks is a student at Champlain Valley Union High School.