The second condition that must be satisfied before elections can be credible is security. Initially, this may be an issue for the military. But peace and quiet based on tanks and the threat of air strikes cannot be enough. Security requires not just troops, but laws and their enforcement.
What one might call "the liberal order" requires at least two institutional ingredients. One is democracy, including elections and governments held to account by parliaments and ultimately the people. The other is the rule of law.
Lord Ashdown, the High Representative of a coalition of countries in Bosnia-Herzegovina, has set a good example of how the rule of law can be established. It requires persons of great courage to become judges, and strong authorities to enforce their judgments. But it can be done. In a Muslim country, such a strategy would, moreover, provide protection against hijacking of the law by religious fanatics. It would establish what might be called the "Turkish solution." Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken up this very challenge, first set by his great predecessor Kemal Ataturk nearly a century ago. Perhaps what Iraq needs most is not a ballot box, but an Ataturk.
Such a strategy would be less simple than merely holding highly imperfect elections. It would make the exit of occupation forces more complex and perhaps more drawn-out. It would, however, have a more lasting impact on democratic development than a dubious process by which a limited number of people go to the polls to elect an ineffectual central government. Such a strategy might even lead to an outcome about which those who want Iraq to join a free world can genuinely say: mission accomplished.
Ralf Dahrendorf, author of numerous books and a former European commissioner from Germany, is a member of the British House of Lords, a former rector of the London School of Economics and a former warden of St Antony's College, Oxford.
Copyright: Project Syndicate/Institute for Human Sciences