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Ambassador Gary Grappo: Too Soon to Know if Democracy in Iraq Is Successful

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U.S. Ambassador Gary Grappo spoke on May 15, 2017, at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies about democratization efforts in Iraq now entering its fifteenth year. The event was organized by the Center for Middle East Studies.

Grappo presented jointly with Eric Nigh, a University of Wisconsin master's student who spent more than 12 years in Iraq working with multiple programs including the USAID-funded Access to Justice program.

Grappo summarized 100 years of U.S. foreign policy relating to the promotion of democracy, which began in 1917 with U.S. President Woodrow Wilson speaking of democracy as a way to promote peace. Approximately three decades later, promoting democracy was regarded as a way to shield against communism in Latin America, Africa and Asia. In his inaugural address in 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy famously said that the U.S. would "pay any price, bear any order to assure the survival and success of liberty." Then, in 1983 during the Reagan administration, the National Endowment for Democracy was established, an effort which continues to present day to promote democracy in ways other than military strength or military intelligence.

"When it came to the Middle East, it really wasn't until 9/11 that the United States took democracy promotion seriously," said Grappo. "Iraq became a much different, radical approach to United States democracy building. We decided we would go in in a massive way, scrape off almost everything they had in terms of government structure and we were going to impose a functioning democratic system."

Also involved in this radically different approach, the United States implemented a variety of programs run by the Department of Justice, the Department of Treasury and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"The number of programs was really mind-boggling," said Grappo. "There were U.S. agencies doing some really profound work in that country that you would never see in any other country in which the United states is represented. The number of programs that we did to address the challenges of democracy in Iraq are almost too numerous. I have to say, there were some programs, I'm not quite sure what we were doing."

In 2013, it was estimated that the United States had spent approximately $1.8 billion in democracy promotion in Iraq. The money was spent in efforts such as training Iraqi media about what it means to be a free and responsible media outlet in a democracy; training legislators and members of their parliament; and training women on how to run for political office.

Nigh conducted research in Iraq—travelling to Iraq and interviewing 77 Iraqis all around the country—to ask Iraqis what they thought about U.S. democratization efforts in their country.

Nigh's background research led him to some startling statistics—forty percent of Iraqis believed the U.S. is working to destabilize the country and one-third of Iraqis believe the U.S. supports ISIS.
"The United States has been known post-World War II as the promoter of democracy," he said. "Do you think it matters to the people we are promoting democracy to, how they view the United States and what the United States' intentions are in that democracy promotion? If everyone thinks that we are there to subvert Iraq and keep Iraq down because if Iraq becomes mighty again, Iraq will become a competitor to the U.S., do you think they'll buy into the democratic institutions that we're working on?"

In his interviews with Iraqis, Nigh found similar information regarding U.S. positionality.

Grappo said one of the greatest challenges of this undertaking is determining whether or not it was successful. A constitution was written and approved, a parliament was organized and elections were held. However, Grappo said the U.S. failed to address native sectarian issues and the societal problems of integrating a democracy in a society that had gone through at least 25 years of very convulsive history.

Citing a lack of metrics for determining success during and after the democratization process, Grappo said he's still not certain if the effort was a success and admitted that many of the democratic institutions in Iraq today are feeble. But, he said, it might still be too early to know.