Pursuing peace over democracy expansion

The concept of democracy originated with the ancient Greeks, who dreamed of a government that would be controlled by and for the people. Notions like the necessity of free elections, having a say in administrative issues and the right to free speech were influenced by Greek culture. The word “democracy” is actually derived from the Greek word “demos,” meaning “people.”

The United States has a perceived position as a global leader in this form of government. This position has also led to the idea that it is our responsibility to bring democracy to countries that have dictatorships or communist governments. Although the leaders of the United States have a lot of authority, and the idea of spreading democracy is admirable, I believe it is not our place to lead democracy crusades in different parts of the world.

Consider what has happened in the Middle East. Before the United States invaded Iraq, the country was under the control of Saddam Hussein. To many, he was a murderous tyrant who killed millions of his own people. Still, the argument can be made that Iraq was somewhat more stable than it is today, and that violence was at a lower level.

I think that the U.S. forces’ deposition of Hussein turned the country into a permanent war zone and contributed to conflict among the Sunnis, the Shiites and the Kurds. Our well-meaning democracy campaign unleashed total chaos in Iraq.

The U.S. intervention in Libya’s Arab Spring also led to similar events. Right now, many factions are at war with each other. Radical Jihadist groups are also very active there. It appears that our involvement in the Libyan Arab Spring helped only to escalate conflict instead of bringing about peace and democracy.

Egypt is another example of a democratic system that did not conform to U.S. ideas of democracy. While Mohammed Morsi was elected president, his political party, the Muslim Brotherhood is not known for promoting democracy.

Nevertheless, the Egyptian people elected Morsi through a democratic process. Then what happened? Outrage ensued from Morsi’s opponents, and the army organized a coup and ousted him, raising the possibility that Egypt will return to a military dictatorship. The democratic government established after the Arab Spring lasted little more than a year and then came to a violent end.

I belive these examples from the past suggest that the U.S. should not intervene in the Syrian conflict today. Bashar al-Assad may be as murderous a tyrant as Saddam Hussein was, if not worse. But if our armies depose him and work to install a democracy, disastrous consequences could ensue.

This is not to say that the United States should avoid going into countries plagued by war and trying to help the refugees survive. In the past, our country has done tremendous good by pursuing humanitarian intervention. I believe the U.S. should focus on standing up for peace instead of crusading for democracy.

Conor Devlin ’17 devlin@stolaf.edu is from New York City, N.Y. He majors in English.