Some would argue that religious concerns, anti-American sentiment or terrorist influences are the main causes. I, however, believe that democracy is failing in Iraq for a far different reason: The Iraqis have no epic story of freedom.
When the United States first declared its independence from Great Britain, the colonies were just as divided as Iraq's Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish regions are today. Those who lived in Virginia, for example, couldn't even imagine sharing the same currency with colonists from Delaware or Massachusetts, much less the same government.
However, through the War for Independence, the colonies formed a strong national bond. At first, this bond was a necessity for victory in the war, yet once victory was achieved, our nation found pride and unity. We found that, despite our differences from state to state, the United States were stronger and better off in almost every way as a union after the Articles of Confideration were drafted.
Iraq, on the other hand, has no story of independence. The Iraqis never threw off the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein. The Iraqis never found a way to unite under a common banner of national sovereignty and unity. Iraq has had independence handed to them - - handed to them not by Arabs, not even by Muslims, but by Americans.
These same Americans have been bombing their villages for nearly 15 years. These same Americans are now responsible for between 37,000 and 100,000 civilian deaths. These same Americans, today, are nowhere near the liberators that Secretaries Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld claimed they would be: We are occupiers in a culturally alien land, imposing our culturally alien systems. How did we ever think this would work?
If one views the Iraqi insurgency as a matter of pride, not just anti-American terrorism, the whole conflict itself comes into focus. If the United States had been invaded, defeated and overrun by the Soviet Union, it's doubtful anyone would be out in the streets, waving the Soviet flag and throwing flowers at the Red Army. The same goes for Iraqis.
If the United States had truly wanted democracy in Iraq, we should have taken the role of our old benefactors (the French) in the Independence War and helped support rebellions against tyrannical governments. In 1991, the United States refused to finance and support the rebellion against Saddam Hussein following the routing of his army in the Gulf War.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but I can only imagine that things would have been different with an Iraq celebrating 15 years of independence from a dictator rather than anticipating the surge of violence that will no doubt accompany its first democratic elections.
The schism between Iraq's various ethnic groups is so deep that even a definite election date is too difficult for them to agree on. Politicians in the Sunni regions of Iraq (the areas most affected by the insurgency) have argued that the threat of violence could keep their people from the polls, thus disenfranchising huge numbers of Iraqis. Some Sunni leaders have called on their constituents to boycott the vote completely, yet the United States has refused to re-examine the election date, a choice as stubborn as it is irrational.
Hypothetically, if Ohio had called to boycott our most recent election, does anyone believe the rest of the nation would have stood for it, or even considered the election itself to be truly representative and fair?
Thus, we find ourselves in an Iraq with nothing to bolster its collective national self-esteem or provide any semblance of national unity. Yes, there are myriad problems facing Iraq's election: the continuing daily violence of the insurgency, lack of infrastructure and disagreement over election times between Sunnis, Kurds and Shiites.
Yet underneath all these problems, the most glaring one refuses to abate. Simply put, the United States cannot give Iraq the pride that any democratic nation needs to function, and we certainly cannot give them the great national story that could unite them all.