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Why Bother?
Posted by: McQ on Monday, January 09, 2006

Aaron Belkin has it all figured out:
The provisional results of the December elections in Iraq are already in dispute, but that doesn't stop Washington from pointing to the vote as a success in its quest to create a peaceful, stable and free Middle East.

But the mere fact of an election cannot change a fundamental truth about Iraq: Saddam Hussein governed as a brutal dictator not simply because he was cruel but also because of the treacherous political landscape that destabilized his relationship with his own military. Hussein was highly vulnerable to a military coup, and future Iraqi leaders will be just as susceptible. Regardless of the election's outcome, a coup will probably follow a U.S. pullout, and Iraq will again be ruled by a dictator.
To paraphrase an old baseball saying, "that's why we play the games", because if we went by how they appear on paper, we'd just crown the Yankees each year and be done with it.

That's not to deny what Belkin and Schofer have computed might not have some relevance in some way, but like most gross models (see world climate models) it can only take in to account a certain set of variables. They can never be fully inclusive of all those variables which would interact in this sort of a study. And then there is the problem of giving them them the appropriate weight even if you could.

Or said another way, per their model, Iraq may very well be more prone to a coup than previously, but I'm not sure what that means, and I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

But to their "test":
Our measure is a bit like a blood pressure test in that high scores equal high risk — but it measures the risk of coups, not strokes.

The test cannot predict with certainty when or if any particular regime will experience a coup. But it has proved to be a powerful tool for establishing which regimes are vulnerable. Governments with the worst scores on the test are about 30 times more likely to be overthrown in a coup than those with the best scores. When we computed our results before the U.S. invasion, Iraq already had a bad score. Today, following years of violence, it is surely worse.

The test looks at three factors. First, the strength of a nation's civil society, which is based on the number and robustness of civic organizations such as political parties, unions, social clubs and the like. Such groups, it turns out, have the capacity to disobey coup plotters' orders. In Bolivia in 1979, for example, a labor union organized protest strikes that sent a rebellious army garrison back to its barracks after an attempted coup. By contrast, when civil society is weak, there is often little to stand in the way of a coup.
First I take exception to the supposition that because of the violence it is "surely worse". Not a very scientific expression if you ask me. And I feel equally fine with saying "after three elections, it's surely less." But, of course, we'll see.

Secondly the three factors looked at in the "test". They begin with the strength of civil society. Obviously Iraq's civil society is, at this point, fairly weak. There is, of course, a reason for that of which we're all familiar. Belkin cites Bolivia's "capacity to disobey coup plotters' orders" as a strength for Bolivia's civil society. Still untested, but nevertheless very evident is Iraq's growing religious component. I would argue that that particular component has shown every characteristic of fulfilling the Bolivian unions role in a coup attempt in Iraq. Now whether you like that or not is an entirely different question, but it has become quite obvious that the religious component is now an integral part of the new Iraqi civil society (and don't forget, Belkin is talking about a military coup).
Second, a nation's history of past coups. A recent coup increases the score; past coups are a good predictor of future coups, because the violent overthrow of a government undermines institutions, such as courts and legislatures, that check instability.
Of course when there hasn't been a coup in a generation, and the institutions such as the courts and legislatures were viewed by the majority of the population as illegitimate anyway, I'm not sure how coups of the past particularly apply. Obviously if the majority of Iraqis begin to believe that the new courts and the new legislature are illegitimate as well, then I'd agree that the possibility as well as the probability of a coup would indeed increase. But to say that's a factor now seems a little premature at this point.
Legitimacy, the third dimension of our coup-risk test, refers to whether citizens accede to the state's right to make society's rules. When a political system enjoys legitimacy, the armed forces are unlikely to try to take control.
With 15 million voting in Iraq and each of the three elections seeing an increase in voter turnout, I'm not sure how legitimacy, at least to this point, can be questioned.

Belkin then goes into some background and reasons why he feels Iraq is vulnerable to a coup by featuring Saddam Hussein's reign of 30 years (begun by a coup). While his recitation of the history is mostly correct, his conclusions leave me a little cold. He details the steps Hussein took to ensure he retained power and avoided a coup. I'm left to wonder which Belkin sees as worse, a coup or an authoritarian dicatorship.

He does, however, then note that similar investments in nation building by the US have, in fact, yielded stable democracies:
Yet some societies do manage to escape from authoritarianism, minimize coup risk and consolidate stable, democratic institutions. The U.S. cultivated democracy in Japan and West Germany after World War II, and in South Korea after the Korean War. The Bush administration has invested considerable effort into creating the conditions for democracy to emerge in Iraq. So why isn't that tipping the balance?
Here I'm not sure what Belkin thinks should be evidently "tipping the balance" at this time, especially given his next paragraph:
As Niall Ferguson notes in his book "Colossus," the formal American occupations of Japan and West Germany lasted seven and 10 years, respectively, and it took nearly 40 years of American military presence in South Korea to nurture a genuine stable democracy there. The commitment of treasure and troops was massive.

And critically, in each of those cases, democratization achieved traction only after the cessation of violence, of which there is no end in sight in Iraq. Under warlike conditions, the country's social infrastructure can't develop — insurgency and counterinsurgency aren't the building blocks of civil society.
So we're three years into the same process and in a more difficult situation than any of those three (with a 7 - 10 year committment each) produced and somehow Belkin thinks we should be seeing an evident tipping point by now? It doesn't logically track. However, that being said, I'll go out on a limb and predict we'll see that tipping point late in this year.

He then addresses the elections I cited above:
And what about the elections? It's important to remember that about half of all coups are launched against democratic regimes. That means the December elections, however they turn out, will neither magically create a sense of legitimacy nor protect the Iraqi government from its own armed forces. Coup risk is a deep, underlying feature of Iraqi society at this time in history, and it will not disappear anytime soon.
Seems a statement of the obvious to me. Any government, it would seem, which is viewed by the majority of the citizens as illegitimate runs more of a chance of a coup than a nation who's government is viewed as legitimate. Make sense? As a correlary I'd also add that a government which the majority view as legitimate is more likely to see its citizens resist a coup than comply.

I'd also point out that while the December elections weren't magic, they were the third out of three steps to form a legitimate government. What was heartening about the 3 elections is that by their increasing turnout for each election, Iraqis demonstrated more and more of them were buying into the concept of a legitimate representative government.
Before the war, when foreign policy experts warned Bush that Iraq was ungovernable, they did not literally mean that the country could not be governed. Rather, they meant that ruling Iraq for any length of time, with any level of stability, requires an iron fist.

The experts were right. Washington still confronts the same dilemma that it has faced all along. It can install a dictator to rule Iraq after U.S. troops leave, or it can leave behind a situation — perhaps even a nascent democracy — that will ultimately yield chaos, coups and then a dictator.

It is true that whoever finally emerges as the last leader standing in Baghdad will not be named Saddam Hussein. However, only a cynic — or a con artist — would depict Iraq's likely authoritarian future as a victory.
This is just patronizing nonsense that buys into the notion that the "wogs" can't govern themselves. It's worthy of 18th century Britian, not 21st century American academic thought. It is this conclusion that makes me wonder if the "test" wasn't somehow structured to support this sort of thinking and that conclusion. Unfortunately I wasn't able to find the article on-line (although it was offered at $25 which I found way too much to spend for something which seems pretty flawed, at least from Belkin's telling) to examine it in detail.
 
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Another "stability junkie", as Mark Steyn calls them. Saddam was killing around 3000 a month in one of the most brutal dictatorships post WWII. But somehow that’s just the way it’s got to be in the Middle East, according to this guy.

I don’t buy Arab exceptionalism as a doctrine. Perhaps it’s because I am an American, and we’re founded on an improbable quest for freedom. In American History class, I was required to take the British side in a mock debate from that period, and let me tell you, that was an easier side to argue. I suppose the same thing is true today in arguing that the Iraqis will just never get it right. But that’s not the way I’m betting.
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
So, by these lights, it would be perfectly acceptable for the US to back dictators, especially dictators who supported us, rather than run the risk of coups d’etat during the Cold War, yes?

So, at a stroke, those who argued that we were wrong to deny democracy in El Salvador, or Iran, or Nicaragua, or Congo are now mistaken? After all, as it turned out, there were plenty of militaries not only itching for coups, but actually executing them.

Somehow, I don’t think that these folks now accept our support for Pinochet, or Marcos, or Mobotu....
 
Written By: Lurking Observer
URL: http://
Good article, McQ.
And, good responses.

Offhanded thought;

To my eye, Belkin seems to be making room for the argument that there’s no victory in Iraq... adding a number of years to the terms. I’ll read this in more detail this evening. But why do I get the decided impression in my first reading, of Belkin being over-eager for one of the pitfalls as he mentions, to materialize?


 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
I agree with much of the analysis, but this particular part seems to leave room for questioning:
Legitimacy, the third dimension of our coup-risk test, refers to whether citizens accede to the state’s right to make society’s rules. When a political system enjoys legitimacy, the armed forces are unlikely to try to take control.

With 15 million voting in Iraq and each of the three elections seeing an increase in voter turnout, I’m not sure how legitimacy, at least to this point, can be questioned.
While electoral turnout is one very important measure of legitimacy, it is certainly not the only one. The Iraqi government has had little experience thus far actually engaging in the task of governing, being otherwise occupied with the task of creating a government to begin with.

The amount of authority that the government will ultimately hold after being formed is another equally important part of the legitimacy equation. If Iraqs central government becomes a weak one with little ability to enforce its mandate, and constantly finds itself to be subordinate to regional and factional pressure, its legitimacy will ultimately be lessened.

This isnt something that we have had an oppourtunity to witness yet one way or another, and likely wont have an oppourtunity to until the government is fully formed and civil instutitions begin forming and taking power, however it is certainly something we must watch out for.

If the new Iraqi government does not become successful in this manner, we may very well see the electoral legitimacy decline as voters begin to realize that their vote makes no difference one way or another on an otherwise weak instutition.

Time will tell.
 
Written By: Rosensteel
URL: http://
I think Belkin’s conclusion is wrong. I don’t think there will be a coup after we leave. I think there will be full on civil war and the Sunnis will lose. the Kurds will have their semi-autonomous state and the Shia will run the rest of the country. I also don’t think Belkin’s point is "patronizing nonsense that the wogs can’t govern themselves..." They will all govern themselves quite nicely, in accordance with their culture and traditions. It just won’t be a Western style secular democracy.
 
Written By: Steven Donegal
URL: http://
So we’re three years into the same process and in a more difficult situation than any of those three
You are joking.

Island hopping across the Pacific - nothing, Battle of the Bulge - childs play, facing down Uncle Joe - easy-peasey, Inchon landing - piffle, stopping the Red China - falling-log-off. All of these pale in comparison to trying to stop Syrian, Iranian, Jordanian and Saudi civillians killing Iraqis. [/sarcasm]

Y’know back in those old days they had some strange ways which have totally vanished today making this a more difficult situation than any of those three. In WW2 they fought the Germans and the Japs until the Germans and the Japs couldn’t fight anymore, they sacraficed thousands so they could have victory and then stood up with courage to tell Uncle Joe’s massively strong Red Army that if this line was crossed they’d do the same to him. In Korea they fought Communist Korea and then Communist Korea & Communist China, they fought for years before a line was drawn and the Commies were told that if they crossed that line the war would start again, the Commies saw their commitment and their power and did not cross that line. These days after the vanishing of such olden day traits as courage and commitment, when the Iraqis are beaten and Iraq controlled, lines are drawn at the borders and if any terrorist dares cross the border then America and Britain will get down on their hands and knees and beg that they stop. And if they cross the line anyway, well then they’ll beg again but in a much nicer way. So in a sense you are right, the situation is much more difficult.
 
Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
Island hopping across the Pacific - nothing, Battle of the Bulge - childs play, facing down Uncle Joe - easy-peasey, Inchon landing - piffle, stopping the Red China - falling-log-off. All of these pale in comparison to trying to stop Syrian, Iranian, Jordanian and Saudi civillians killing Iraqis. [/sarcasm]

He’s talking about after the war, Angus, unless you consider Japan and Germany to have been "stable democracies" prior to the war.

It wasn’t until 5 or 6 years into the occupation that each had a constitution.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
He’s talking about after the war

The war is the most important part of it. Democracy is having difficulty being established, because the war is not yet over.

Say hypothetically the Soviets had invaded and captured one state in America (say Delaware or California - one of the lesser states) and then asked nicely that the rest of America to not attack, pointing out that any spies would be imprisonned. Do you think this would stop the rest of America? The other Mid East states are just like the other American states (except much weaker, stone age and barbaric) - just like it would not be in rump Americas interest to see a socialist workers dictatorship in its midst, it is not in the Middle East’s dictatorial paradise worldview a good idea to have a democracy next door. So the war will continue until it is a better idea for the Iraqis to be left alone.

But what say the Soviets had captured a state, set up shop and then said that if any yankee SoB invaded there would be WW3 and everybody would die. Well look what happened to Cuba.

 
Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
The war is the most important part of it. Democracy is having difficulty being established, because the war is not yet over.

How so Angus?

I see the claim but little to support it. 3 votes, each with more voters than the last, give lie to your assertion.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
McQ~

You can certainly not have democracy without elections, but you can have elections without democracy (Iran and Egypt being two examples). The jury is still out on Iraq. If one of the secular parties can negotiate a place in the government, there is still a chance this adventure may turn out. If not, I am not optimistic about where Iraq will be in five years.
 
Written By: Steven Donegal
URL: http://
You can certainly not have democracy without elections, but you can have elections without democracy (Iran and Egypt being two examples).

Yes, they’re called competitive autocracies. I wrote about one here.

The jury is still out on Iraq.

I absolutely agree ... and will remain out ... for years.

If one of the secular parties can negotiate a place in the government, there is still a chance this adventure may turn out. If not, I am not optimistic about where Iraq will be in five years.

Well it’s really up to the majority of Iraqis to decide what they consider to be a legitimate (or illegitimate) government isn’t it? We may have our druthers, but it’s their country.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
Book - The invasion took three weeks, did you need NZs help? Post invasion NZ has deployed under British command.

The occupation and suppression of insurgency is going to take a while. It would be nice if it was shorter and Iraq more secure. The main reason for the continued insurgency seems to be Sunni coming into Iraq to kill Shia.
 
Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
but you can have elections without democracy (Iran and Egypt being two examples).
True, and I’d add North Korea, and Cuba, to these. Still, I think I’d quibble with defining any of those as elections, even in this context. I would certainly classify what just went down in Iraq as more of an election than THAT. Certainly, there was more than one person to vote for, for example... and nobody got shot at the voting booth for voting for someone other than the current leader.

I would also caution, Steven, that you shuldn’t be too quick about labeling the election unsuccessful simply because there are religious people involved... Or at the least people who label themselves religious by way of their party name. I suppose those to be a cultural artifact, and not so much the direction they’re headed. The true measurement here, is what they do once in power. The jury, agreed, is going to be out for a while on that one... But I suggest that the average Iraqi citizen has now had a taste of democracy. That feeling of taking the power for ones life into their own hands is addictive, and the way Iraqis increasingly embraced the deal through the three successive elections..... well, I just don’t think they’re going to let this one get screwed up on them by anyone... including themselves.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
What am I missing here-you writing about America and Britain down on their knees begging? WTF?
The soldiers are very good. They made mincemeat of the best Iraq had to offer inside of 4 weeks. They are brave men and women. They now in Iraq, where they have won the respect of the Iraqis, Iraqis who want democracy and are paticipating in democracy. They are the best two armies in the world. The only problem is that each day people, technology and funding flows into Iraq from Syria, Saudi and Iran with the dual purposes of stopping democracy and killing people (sometimes Shia people and sometimes Coalition people).

Now how do you stop this? Well so far America and Britain have respectfully asked for cooperation of the Syrian, Saudi and Iranian governments in stopping this flow of men and materiale. Britain and America asked them to stop and then a few months later asked them again, and again and still they don’t comply...I term this begging. To date it hasn’t worked.

When this all started the Axis of Evil was defined as Iraq-Iran-N.Korea with the help of Syria and some others, and these were warned that they had best comply or else (this was a great and workable plan). Now 4 years later Iraq has been dealt with and totally unsurprisingly Syria and Iran are fighting back and they have been joined by fanatics from the home of fanaticism Saudi Arabia. But instead of following through and destroying those that stand against freedom America and Britain do not use their armies, preferring to ask again, again, again for the enemy to stop.

In summary you have a great army, it destroyed the tyrant in Iraq and stopped Iraqi attacks on you. It was 100% successful and did it in record time with hardly any casualties. Today you are attacked by Iran and Syria and Saudis (all of whom have soldiers unfit to lick the sand from your armys boots) and your response is to beg them to please stop - which hasn’t worked. If only there was some way that could be 100% successful in destroying the terrorists, in record time with hardly any casualties.





BTW - in case you think we are doing okay and if we just stay long enough it will come right in the end, your end is defined as the next economic slowdown when the Democrats recapture the Whitehouse and bring the troops home. The end for the Iranians is when the Mahdi is sent by Allah to end the world. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the Republicans lose office before the end of the world.
 
Written By: unaha-closp
URL: http://warisforwinning.blogspot.com/
I didn’t read the article, but did he take into account at all the fact that the Iraqi Army has now been trained by the US Military? I’d be shocked if that training didn’t include some fairly significant indoctrination in the ideas of Civil society and civilian oversight and control of the military.

You might have some Iraqi Generals who would want to stage a coup (though more likely a civil war would result) but are the rank-and-file going to follow?
 
Written By: Eric J
URL: http://flig.us
Oops - forgot the parenthesis

BTW - in case you think "we are doing okay and if we just stay long enough it will come right in the end", your end is defined as the next economic slowdown when the Democrats recapture the Whitehouse and bring the troops home. The end for the Iranians is when the Mahdi is sent by Allah to end the world. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the Republicans lose office before the end of the world.

Thats your only problem that I missed some quote marks?

If New Zealand is ever invloved in a conflict where we have to prevent aggression against us begging will definitely be invloved. We are too weak to impose our will on anybody and are reliant on the cooperation of other states to ensure peaceful co-existance, it goes without saying that we beg. USA and Britain destroyed a 500 000 man army in a month, have military technology the envy of the world, have highly professional armies capable of full sphere domination. These massive armies are feared, BUT you choose to mimic NZ and go begging for cooperation.
 
Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
Eric J:

In this regard, it is worth considering the track record of Central and South America. For all the Lefty ravings about the School of the Americas, the reality is that, as officers in Central and South American states that had been US-trained came to predominate, and as their economies improved and their polities evolved, the prospects of coups shrank radically.

The same has been true in East Asia.

The chances of a coup in South Korea in the 1960s or 1970s was, as history shows, quite high. Now? Just about inconceivable.

What are the chances of a coup in El Salvador? A lot lower today than in 1980, which was probably lower than in, say, 1960.

And, as you say, as a result of that training, their respect NOW for human rights is certainly greater than it was then (when they could also run coups).
 
Written By: Lurking Observer
URL: http://
Lurking - the change in attitude coincided with perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
 
Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
Book - Yeah I think maybe I am playing that game, in some ways you are surprisingly insightful. But in other ways you are totally unobservent - in the real world "you and him" are fighting, your young men and women are dying. You are two "men" one madman armed with some pebbles and is fighting for all he is worth, whilst the other is armed with a .357 magnum & wearing a kevlar/cotton wool suit. The one with the pebbles is smeared in poo wearing underwear on his head and likes beating women, but he fights real hard. If the crazy man wins he gets to smack all the girls around and who cares what any cottom wool wrapped loser thinks about it.

Its how you fight that is a problem, you fight in Iraq reacting defensively to enemy action (wearing your 2 trillion dollar kevlar/cotton wool suit) to win this way you require that the enemy gives up. The (insane, lunatic) enemy is not going to give up, so you have to change your tactics to attack the enemy or you will lose. If you lose it will be bad for us, because we will have to cooperate peacefully with a lot of Islamic fanatics.
 
Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
When B00K & B00K ADAMs start both talking on the same thread it gets real confusing.
 
Written By: unaha-closp
URL: http://warisforwinning.blogspot.com/
Your comments and criticism are entirely welcome as long as you identify yourself as a third-party in New Zealand.
BTW - Trying to label a messenger with their race, colour, religion or creed is a pointless exercise. I may be what my profile says or maybe my I’m Mike an accountant from Huddersfield or Leo a hard working lab assistant from Tel Aviv. It’ll take a lot of trying to find out and you might still fail.

This is the internet, home to millions of middle aged men pretending to be 16 yr old girls. We welcome you.
 
Written By: unaha-closp
URL: http://warisforwinning.blogspot.com/
Book should realise this is the public domain, the NSA monitors everything that everybody says - God bless em.

Whenever someone trips a flag by as an example "calling for the destruction of Israel" it goes on file. Over time a profile is built up which lists all the other statements of this individual and cross references these with the ISP records the NSA has free access to (in the USA), so all potential trouble makers are identified before they move to more violent actions. It is common practice to work hand in glove with intelligence agencies of allied countries (SIS (NZ), MI5 (UK), Mossad (Isr)) providing them with these profiles of potential terrorists. If the potential terrorist makes the next step and begins to prepare for terrorist activity (by joining a local mosque, militia or even starting a paint ball team) the NSA can swoop and render this individual into custody. In this way the NSA is making your life and the life of every other American safe from terrorism.
 
Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
Don’t worry ’bout us down here Book. It’s a long swin for a camel and we’re not too concerned. You just look after your other more trustworthy friends and allies.
 
Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
NZ is on the team. Only thing NZ does not like the term "allied to America" - might be the implication or might be so we can do some grandstanding.

Probably the grandstanding.
 
Written By: unaha-closp
URL: http://warisforwinning.blogspot.com/
News flash - the USA is at war. Maybe some day Book might realise this, but not quite yet.
 
Written By: unaha-closp
URL: http://warisforwinning.blogspot.com/
If Book finally figures out that the USA is at war (how long will it take and after how many dead it is impossible to say). On that day Book might think to ask "how can this war be fought better with less casualties?".
 
Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
As Book believes that a free exchange of ideas interferes with "the domestic political process" of America, perhaps Book would feel more comfortable going elsewhere.
 
Written By: Unaha-closp
URL: http://
Agreed very funny, Joe Hildebrand is a rather talented writer. Surprised you like him though.
 
Written By: unaha-closp
URL: http://warisforwinning.blogspot.com/
As to you Book, I don’t see how it helps you to define me as just a Kiwi and somehow because of this someone who cannot have an opinion.


BTW - I don’t side with Republicans and bash Democrats. I might bash Americans from time to time, but I try to do so on a non-partisan basis. Any comment with reference to one party or another is to push my barrow "win the war".
 
Written By: unaha-closp
URL: http://warisforwinning.blogspot.com/

 
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