By Roland Watson
Dictator Watch
December 1, 2015

Even with decades of diplomacy, and war, and varied peace-building initiatives, which in total have cost simply staggering sums, both in lives and currency, conflict in the Middle East remains ubiquitous. It is like a fire that is never quite put out, which continually reignites and spreads.

The reason why peace is never achieved is that there is a fundamental confusion about the process. Put simply, peace can never be guaranteed until democracy is established. While it is certainly true that you need some semblance of peace before a democratic election can be held, which peace is achieved typically through popular revolution and its associated conflict, enduring peace can only arise once a society is democratic. This is, after all, the essential characteristic of the democratic system: The peaceful transfer of power from one section or faction of the citizenry to another.

Peace advocates, some of them at least, and notwithstanding all of their good works, miss this point. Democracy comes first, and peace follows. Therefore, during the revolution and conflict stage there has to be a major, parallel effort to initiate the entire democratic system, starting from protecting basic human rights like freedom of expression, association and the press, through to the formation of political parties, the holding of the first election, and the convening of a constitutional drafting assembly. This parallel effort begins with education.

Indeed, and as an example, this is perhaps the greatest flaw of American foreign policy, which has involved itself, rightly or wrongly, in so many such conflicts. The United States inevitably leaves a nation when the guns fall silent (and then quickly returns once they start firing again). Somehow, policy makers haven't yet figured out that if you leave a country in ruins, and with a power vacuum, other unscrupulous individuals - wannabe-dictators and war lords - will attempt to seize control.

Other than through the Marshall Plan following World War II, the U.S. has not expended the effort to help newly freed populations establish workable democracies. The usual excuse is money, that after the great expenses of war there is nothing left to spend. This has been incredibly short-sighted policy, and helped generate a legacy of intractable conflicts, and which in turn have damaged American interests and the nation's reputation, and cost additional U.S. lives.

Also, it is not only peace that results from democracy; there is the question of human rights. In many dictatorial countries around the world, from the Middle East to China, people demonstrate for their human rights. They too, though, are failing to grasp the real process of positive social change. You can never have a guarantee of human rights (or environmental protection or sustainable development), while a nation remains a dictatorship. Even if the rulers relax in their repression, there is always the risk that it will restart, if only under the next generation. Human rights, as with peace (they are of course closely related), can only be assured when democracy is achieved. Therefore, while people around the world who are being oppressed should certainly demonstrate for their rights, they should make this objective part of a larger, overall demand to achieve democracy.