An Answer To The Daily Kos

The Daily Kos has some pointed and provocative questions about post-war Iraq. With the war likely to be in its final stages, it is an appropriate time to begin discussing the next steps in rebuilding the battered state of Iraq. Steve Gilliard first comments:

I’m curious.

Our pro-war friends keep saying the Iraqis will be given their democracy and we’ll build a great society for them.

When has the US or any country done this before?

Before you say Germany and Japan, you have to remember both had the fundamentals of a democratic state before the Second World War. Tojo was Prime Minister, not dictator, for one thing and Hitler was Chancellor.

Germany was nominally democratic prior to World War II, but Tojo was largely a figurehead. Imperial Japan was hardly a democracy before the end of World War II with must of the power of the Japanese state invested in Emperor Hirohito.

I don’t think the sky is falling. I’m just extremely leery of happy predicitions of success in a place that the US understands so poorly.

I just want to know what you base your optimism on. Because I don’t see it. I see a country filled with bitter grudges, endemic corruption and no civil institutions untainted by either politics of a very politicized religion. I see people who have far more to gain by putting bullets into American soldiers than accepting their aid. In fact, I see more people invested in US failure, like Iraq’s neighbors, than in US success.

This is a reasonable question to ask. Mr. Gilliard is correct in pointing out that Iraq is hobbled by endemic corruption and a severe lack of the civil institutions necessary for a stable democracy. However, that does not mean that such obstacles cannot be overcome given enough time. I do not expect Iraq to become a democracy overnight. Yet with a system that preserves democratic government and begins fostering a sense of civil society, it is possible to slowly institute a democratic regime. Is the Bush Administration being overly optimistic in their estimates for how long this will take? Perhaps. However, I’ve yet to see a counterplan that does any better. (If anyone has any links to one please pass them on.)

Nor do I believe that the Iraqi people have more vested in American failure than American success. Failure of democratization would lead the Iraqi people to returning the hellish conditions they are now escaping. Democratization means increased standards of living and personal freedom. If anything, much of the fundamentalist backlash in the Middle East and elsewhere stems less from American action than it stems from American inaction. We have consistently failed to act for years when fundamentalist movements attacked, and it finally took the lives of 3,000 people to awaken this country to the threat. Had we been more proactive in eliminating terrorism through a combination of military and diplomatic action, such horrors may well have been avoided.

And the narrowcasting of the occupation, which belies the planning done by the Allies in Japan and Germany, which took years, seems to reek of the kind of business failures I’ve spent four years covering. Only people who agree with the plan are allowed to participate and that’s always a bad sign in business. You need in-house skeptics, and the Occupation team for Iraq seems to lack them or any diplomats who have extensive dealings with Iraq.

There is an element of truth to that criticism. However, the Bush Administration is not nearly as unitary as many critics would have it be. The Rumsfeld/Cheney/Rice axis is often counterbalanced by the more dovish and accomodating State Department and the other groups inside and outside of the Beltway. No doubt that there will be plenty of criticism of Bush’s plan – from the media if nowhere else.

The war is being waged on the cheap, and so is the occupation. How is the US going to provide services without the UN? Our civic affairs units have their limits. NGO’s are leery of working under US command or control.

The problem with NGOs and UN agencies is that they often destabilize governments, although unintentionally. The reconstruction of Iraq must start through a responsible government and not through aid agencies. The people need to see the government as being the source of change and support, not outside agencies. While this will be problematic, keeping NGOs and UN agenices at an arms length may also be beneficial in the long run. The best strategy is to use the reconstituted Iraqi government rather than aid groups as the primary actor in rebuilding Iraq.

Nor is the Administration necessarily saying that any of this will be cheap. We are looking at a project that will cost hundreds of billions of dollars and many years – but one that is absolutely necessary for peace and security in the region.

What the comparisons of WWII lack are the fact that the US spent years building up the infrastructure to run Europe and Asia. We trained thousands of soldiers in European languages, hired a range of experts to plan for peace while the war was ongoing. All of the government’s departments participated in this.

We will likely be in Iraq for some time. I would forsee that we will maintain a significant military presence in Iraq for some time – not only as a peacekeeping force, but as a method of political and diplomatic leverage. We’re drawing a line in the sand again, and governments like Syria and Saudi Arabia that foster terrorism should be on notice. One of the side effects of this presence is the stabilizing force and infrastructure improvements that would follow from it.

I am just wondering why people believe the US can deliver a democratic state to Iraqis quickly and without any significant opposition from various ethnic groups and political factions?

Despite the rhetoric of the Bush Administration, we are not going to deliver democracy to Iraq. We may deliver a democratic system, but it is up to the Iraqis to use it. Democratization does not occur by fiat, it is a process that takes a long amount of time and effort and is build only from the ground up. Despite these factors, Iraqi democracy is not impossible. Human nature innately desires freedom, autonomy, and security – the same desires that a representative democracy based upon a free market and human rights meets better than any other system. In the end, there is a certain leap of faith involved. Democracy in Iraq may take years of effort and may not appear for some time – but it is still necessary and proper that it be tried.

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