October 19, 2005
Iraq: Lowered Expectations
I’ll be honest with you, nobody around here wants to write about Iraq. Sure, the country has the trappings of democracy: political parties, elections and a draft constitution that may soon be ratified by popular referendum. It's certainly useful to ramble on about these "accomplishments" when uncomfortable questions about troop withdrawals come up, but do they really reflect democratic development? What do a bunch of purple fingers mean in the face of growing insurgency, ethnic/sectarian attempts to maximize factional interests, a constitution that favors federalism and obvious signs that religious conservatives are now a dominant political force?
There are a good number of governments that do not represent citizens or uphold individual rights in spite of their constitutions, referenda, elections and political parties (Miss Mabrouk has a nice summary of Egypt's election shenanigans). Just because Iraqis have gone to the polls a few times doesn’t mean they have a functioning democracy or even a self-sustaining government, for that matter. Iraq’s financial situation (or put another way, its utter dependence on the US taxpayer) is a useful example of non-viability. FT notes that the Iraqi government’s reliance on US assistance has resulted in a disincentive to curb its own expenditures:
Some US officials are also arguing that the US has to start disengaging from its role as Iraq's economic prop. This push has alarmed defence contractors, which are lobbying against such a move.
The $10bn (€8.3bn, £5.7bn) of US taxpayers' money spent so far on economic reconstruction has had limited effect, officials and analysts say, in part because of the insurgency and high insurance costs. The aid also serves to discourage the Iraqi government from making tough decisions, such as cutting back food and fuel subsidies that consume close to 40 per cent of their budget, which is projected to run a $6bn deficit.
To draw an interesting parallel with the British experience in Iraq, once again I will quote Toby Dodge’s Inventing Iraq:
[Iraq’s] government and economy were still financially dependent upon the British Exchequer. The commitments previously given to the League [of Nations] by both Britain and Iraq concerning the inclusion of and comity among the different ethnic and religious communities were discarded to achieve Iraq’s formal independence as quickly as possible…
The League’s demand that Iraq have a “settled” government and administration capable of operating essential services had in fact been met. But Iraq was nowhere near being able to fulfill the other four criteria of internationally sanctioned sovereignty: that the state be “capable of maintaining its territorial integrity and political independence,” that it be “able to maintain the public peace throughout the whole territory,” that it have “adequate financial resources to provide regularly for normal Government requirements,” and that it have laws that afforded “equal and regular justice to all.”
I’ve already written about British public pressure and its impact on Britain’s activities in Iraq during the Mandate period. US public pressure is now shaping its Iraq policy in much the same way. The White House no longer mentions post-war Japan or Germany as a model for Iraq, instead it alludes to ethnic/sectarian strife, lawlessness, co-opting of public institutions by various factions and lack of force monopoly. Secretary of State Rice highlighted these issues in her remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
We know our objectives. We and the Iraqi Government will succeed if together we can:
- Break the back of the insurgency so that Iraqis can finish it off without large-scale military help from the United States.
- Keep Iraq from becoming a safe haven from which Islamic extremists can terrorize the region or the world.
- Demonstrate positive potential for democratic change and free expression in the Arab and Muslim worlds, even under the most difficult conditions.
- And turn the corner financially and economically, so there is a sense of hope and a visible path toward self-reliance.
Nothing new in her speech, except perhaps some goalpost-shifting with an emphasis on helping Iraq set a “path” to democracy and a “visible path” to self-reliance. A bit weak when compared to the President’s swaggering confidence in 2003:
We will help you build a peaceful and representative government that protects the rights of all citizens. And then our military forces will leave. Iraq will go forward as a unified, independent and sovereign nation that has regained a respected place in the world. (April 10, 2003)
The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done. Then we will leave, and we will leave behind a free Iraq. (May 1, 2003)
Iraqi democracy will succeed -- and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran -- that freedom can be the future of every nation. (November 6, 2003)
Reality's a bitch, eh?
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"And so, my fellow Americans, we must attack Iraq in order to send it on a visible path toward self-reliance ..."
Posted by: praktike at October 20, 2005 02:51 AM
I believe the unstated standard of success now is "the country does not collapse into Lebanese Civil War style street fighting with not the slightest real pretence of a government"
I can live with that, should they start showing a modicum of basic competence. (The US that is)
Posted by: lounsbury at October 20, 2005 06:32 AM
As can I. Give it ten years and maybe the Iraqis can accomplish more.
Federalism is fine in principle; the US and Canada use it. The problem is, in Iraq it could really screw the Sunnis, and there's not much of a separate central authority, more like a reflection of the regional governments. It's hard to see a way around that though. A strong central government is precisely what the Kurd and Shiite factions are sick of. I imagine the population is too. Of course, in a democracy, majority rules. This can be a problem in non-homogenous countries with strong sectarian/ethnic divides, since votes along those allegiances rarely change, and are dominated by those allegiances.
Posted by: zurn at October 20, 2005 11:32 AM