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A Soft Landing for Iraq
Posted by: Jon Henke on Tuesday, December 19, 2006

At Ezra Klein's blog, Neil the Ethical Werewolf makes an important point.
Clearly, people in Iraq occasionally cast votes, and the ballots determine things like who sits in the Prime Minister's office in Baghdad. But it seems to me that democracy requires something more than this. If the security forces that run the country have greater allegiances to unelected leaders like Muqtada al-Sadr than to their elected leaders, it's not a democracy. We could argue about whether political power everywhere grows from the barrel of a gun, but it certainly does in Iraq. And if the way the barrels of the country's guns are pointed is determined more by Muqtada's wishes than those of Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Parliament, and other legitimately elected representatives of the Iraqi public, we haven't brought democracy to the country.
Iraq may be a 'democracy' in some senses of the word, but it is not pluralistic. That's the important component of democracy that we had hoped would obtain in Iraq. In important ways, however, it has not obtained.

President Bush likes to argue that "everybody has the desire to be free", and I believe this is generally true but incomplete. In the case of Iraq, people desire to be secure, as well. That appears to be working at cross-purposes with pluralistic freedom.

Iraqis may 'desire to be free', but many of them appear most interested in being free of their political opponents.

As James Joyner points out, the "real problem is not so much that Iraq is not “a democracy” but that it borders on being a failed state" because "it is unable to establish the rule of law across the land." The problems in Iraq are not something that significant application of US force can resolve, although some US presence may have a palliative effect on the situation.

The problems in Iraq arise from a lack of institutions. When we invaded — and especially when we disbanded the army and gutted Iraqi agencies — we created an institutional vacuum...and then we essentially dawdled for the next few years, waiting for the Iraqis to step up. Well, nature abhors a vacuum, and so does society. Into that vacuum stepped the most powerful social, religious, international and financial interests, and they have been able to infiltrate, even supplant, the government.

I don't think we can push re-set here. Genuine pluralism is probably a lost cause, and — as McQ indicated yesterday — it's difficult to see what clear, obtainable objectives US troops could accomplish to change that fact. What we can do is transition US forces in Iraq to a lower-key, long-term stability and emergency backstop, leaving us in a position to wield influence over the political settlement reached by the powers in Iraqi society.

Somewhere in between "fighting on" and "leaving" is a relatively soft landing. As in Vietnam, however, domestic political interests seem to be pulling us towards the extremes once again.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Iraq had plenty of institutions, Jon. True, the only political institution was Saddam’s Ba’ath Party and when that disappeared after the fall of Baghdad there was a vacuum there. But there were the tribal and religious institutions. Unfortunately, these were not much conducive to pluralist liberal democracy.

And, of course, there was organized crime.

These institutions have re-asserted themselves on a sort of “last man standing” basis and what we’re seeing in Iraq right now is the result of that.

This should not have been a surprise. Much the same thing happened after the collapse of the Soviet Union. After 75 years of single party dominance of every facet of life and official suppression of political, social, and religious institutions that weren’t directly under the thumb of the party, when the party lost its stranglehold only the surviving institutions remained. In the case of Russia those were the military, the state bureaucracy, and organized crime. Not much of a basis for liberal democracy but a heckuva basis for kleptocracy, which is what they got.
Written By: Dave Schuler
"This should not have been a surprise. "
Exactly right.

The sad fact is that we don’t learn from our surprises, and this is scary.

Chaos and violence has followed every major disruption of the status-quo, if it occurs suddenly. Stability imposed by external powers also has a limited shelf-life. The stability imposed by colonial powers in the Middle East created a seething under-dog populace waiting to erupt.

In the meantime, global condlicts are presented to us cartoon style: these are bthe bad guys we have to eliminate, and these are the innocent victims, who are as pure as the driven snow.

We are going down the same path with Iran. There is no doubt in my mind that Iran is a dangerous country. But regime change imposed from without is doomed. Changes have to simmer up from within the populace, as they try and fail and try again, maturing in the process.

We don’t understand South America, either. We just line up the bad guys and good guys in neat rows, with. maybe. a CNN report about drug lords as a main source of information.

We don’t really care to know about other parts of the globe until a crises erupts, and then we go in with guns and ideologies blazing.

It’s a dangerous game of blind man’t bluff.

Written By: Laime
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