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Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Will Reconstruction Work?-Here's part two of my reply to Wood's Connexions piece from last week, the part I was too weary to want to tackle on Friday. He has a valid point that the reconstruction of Iraq will only work if the Iraqis want it to work. He uses the example of Afghanistan, where nation-building is not overly smooth.
Take Afghanistan. I was depressed to read a couple weeks ago that even under the new Afghan government, resentment against the US (and Britain even more so - after all, it was our mess first, history fans) is at a peak. Are they ungrateful? No, because they don't consider us to have saved them.
Part of the problem with Afghanistan is that we used local anti-Taliban militias as our proxies with help from our airpower and special forces. The militias, of which the Northern Alliance was the most prominent, were largely the remnants of the warlords that were running Afghanistan in the early 90s before the Taliban came in. At first, the devout seminarians seemed an improvement over the corrupt warlords until their Sharia-on-steroids rule started to unfold. Today, we largely have a return to the pre-Taliban warlords with the US playing chaperone. Given that there aren't that many US troops on the ground, it's hard for the US to clean up a lot of the warlords without having an knock-down-drag-out with them. With the exception of northern Iraq, where the US took a page out of the Afghanistan book and used the Kurds as their proxies, the troops doing the job are ours (or our Anglospherian buddies). We've got a better shot at producing a clean, coherent government without the warlordism of Afghanistan. Some of that seems to be happening in the early going, as the US let local clerics set up their own patrols in the soon-to-be-renamed Saddam City section of Baghdad. However, the ratio of GIs to hostile natives is a lot higher in Iraq. Wood also questions how universal the desire for democracy is. There are plenty of places where democracy has been dysfunctional; much of Africa went the way of "One man, one vote, one time" and then the "George Washington of [insert country]" ignored the original's two-term limit and ran things until he died of natural causes or lead poisoning. However, with a bit of chaperoning, a functioning democracy can emerge from Iraq. There doesn't seem to be that deep a bitterness that would stop Iraq from functioning; there's a Sunni-Shiite friction and the issue of the Kurds, but a federal Iraq should work well. If we can avoid the warlordism of Afghanistan, a functioning democracy should emerge. You don't have the fervorous Islam in Iraq that would be likely produce a theocracy. It might take a while to develop a set of national leaders; the allies may be stuck overseeing the country as a whole for a while as they develop local leaders to emerge. Appointing such leaders too early may result in both warlordism and the cries that the anointed leaders are mere puppets. I'd like to see the US work towards creating a bottom-up approach of developing local leaders and then forming regional and then national governments of the Iraqi's choosing. Doing it from the top-down will result in a lack of long-term legitimacy of the resulting government. The key will be having the US and its friends spending the time, manpower and money to do it right. If they do, Wood and others with comparable doubts will nod their heads and say that they were surprised that they had what it took to get it right.

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