Friday, December 24, 2004

Can the mess be cleaned up?
Tom Friedman, who is so very irritating so much of the time, actually gives it to us straight for a few paragraphs (before reverting to demonizing "the Europeans"):

What is terrifying is that the noble sacrifice of our soldiers, while never in vain, may not be enough. We may actually lose in Iraq. The vitally important may turn out to be the effectively impossible.

Amen. And let's not whitewash it -- our soldiers have been doing an absurd amount of noble sacrificing lately. I suspect that at some point they may run fresh out of nobility and sacrifices. Friedman gets all persnickety because it's a "tiny minority" inflicting all this chaos, but that doesn't make the dead people any less dead. Fallujah did not crush the insurgency. It is not entirely clear at this point whether the insurgency can actually be crushed. If men and materiel are flooding into Iraq from Syria and Iran, as some allege, that only worsens our dilemma, because the United States simply does not currently have the capacity to start two new wars in the Middle East.

The elections next month are going to be a crucial turning point for Iraq, and I must confess to being pessimistic. Iraq possesses almost nothing that scholars believe is necessary for a successful transition to democracy. It has no prior experience with democratic institutions, it is riven with smoldering ethnic and religious rivalries, and it is surrounded, with the exception of Turkey, by non-democratic regimes. Most problematic is the lack of agreement about borders and identity within the country itself. The Kurdish portions of the country, quite justifiably, are extremely skeptical about their future in a united Iraq, the Sunni minority is using violence to protect what remains of their privileges, and the Shi'a majority seeks to centralize power in such a way that will provoke further conflict.

Thirty years ago, the social scientist Dankwart Rustow laid out a very influential theory of democratization. The very first condition was "national unity." He wrote:

The model starts with a single background condition -- national unity...It simply means that a vast majority of citizens in a democracy-to-be must have no doubt or mental reservations as to which political community they belong to....In order that rulers and policies may freely change, the boundaries must endure, the composition of the citizenry must be continuous.

Now, Rustow goes on to suggest that serious conflict is also a precondition for democracy, but this is not the kind of conflict he had in mind -- he was talking about struggles between entrenched interest groups (i.e. social classes), and not between armed and resentful ethnic groups in a multi-national state. Throw in the grinding poverty and unemployment of contemporary Iraq, and you have, in my opinion, a recipe for failed democratization and a civil war.

If this is the most likely outcome, what is the U.S. to do? On the one hand, since we are responsible for "breaking" Iraq, we bear some measure of responsibility for its immediate future. But at the same time, we have to be able to recognize the possibility that our presence in Iraq is doing more harm than good, and that the best scenario may be to make a quick exit after the elections, whatever the outcome -- peace with honor, if you will. It makes sense, especially when you consider that the platform of the coalition likely to sweep the elections calls for the swift exit of the United States from Iraq.

At the very least, all the carnage should put to rest neocon fantasies of littering Iraq with permanent U.S. military bases for purposes of "power projection." The only projection going on in Iraq is the right's illusion of easy victory onto the reality of horrific failure.


At 12:01 AM, Blogger jdeadzone said...

amen. Freidman has been surprisingly for this war though he now rails against the incompetency of the administration. Nice to be ready to sacrifice our kids for an idea, poorly supported by careful historical and political analysis, of installing democracy and regime change instead of containment and vigilance which did so much to manage the cold war. Fuck these neocons and their goddamm arrogancewrapped in ignorance.


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