Commentary Magazine


The Failings of Successful Democracy

How best to acknowledge the precious democratic exercise in civic responsibility we’re witnessing this Tuesday? If you’re the New York Times, you run a disingenuous story about the failings of democracy. Today’s lesson in American hubris comes from Kuwait:

“Kuwait used to be No. 1 in the economy, in politics, in sports, in culture, in everything,” [Parliamentary candidate Ali al-Rashed] said, his voice floating out in the warm evening air to hundreds of potential voters seated on white damask-lined chairs. “What happened?”

It is a question many people are asking as this tiny, oil-rich nation of 2.6 million people approaches its latest round of elections. And the unlikely answer being whispered around, both here and in neighboring countries on the Persian Gulf: too much democracy.


The collapse of the Bush administration’s efforts to promote democracy in the region and the continuing chaos in Iraq, just to the north–once heralded as the birthplace of a new democratic model–have also contributed to a popular suspicion that democracy itself is one Western import that has not lived up to its advertising.

The article’s writer, Robert F. Worth, has it on good authority that Kuwaitis are now suspicious of democracy. His source? The 24-year-old son of another Parliamentary candidate (who himself rejected that view). But that’s enough for a New York Times primary day headline.

It’s no surprise that Worth doesn’t cite any figures in trying to make the case that Kuwait’s economy and productivity is stalling. If he did, here’s what he’d confront: Kuwait’s human development is the highest in the Arab world. The country has the second-most free economy in the Middle East, and its GDP rate of growth is 5.7%, which makes its economy one of the fastest growing in the region.

The only attributable monarchy-envy comes from Worth himself, who virtually taunts Kuwaitis with their neighbors’ ostentation:

Although parts of Kuwait City were rebuilt after the Iraqi invasion of 1990, much of it looks faded and tatty, a striking contrast with the gleaming hyper-modernity of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar.

Well, you know how dingy free-market, parliamentary democracy can be.