Monday, July 03, 2006

Post-Imperial Blues and Iraqi Sovereignty

What follows are the very first private musings that Christian Isely, a recently retired State Department officer, wrote while starting out his mission in Baghdad's Green Zone two years ago.

(Please notice that while most of the criticism seems to be directed at Uncle Sam, in fact the basic criticism (although dwelled on more briefly) really has to do with the arm-twisting the so-called peace camp members apply on the American government as well as the politically correct "knee-jerk anti-imperialism" (which I also describe extensively in my book) which (all too conveniently) fuels the political correctess of said peace camp members.)

Post-Imperial Blues and Iraqi Sovereignty

June 28, 2006

Following the Second Anniversary of Iraqi Sovereignty:

The United States has a terrible case of the Post-Imperial Blues.

The only cure is an intellectual realization that not all places are fit for present self-government as based on the ample empirical evidence from decolonization and subsequent UN and NATO protectorates in the Balkans. Knee-jerk anti-imperialism must be jettisoned in addition to the corresponding obsession with the nation-state as the only just and most effective form of international political organization.

Indeed, it is this fit of Post-Imperial Blues that has proven so disastrous to our efforts in Iraq. It is the primary reason why sovereignty was handed over so early on June 28, 2004.

Naturally, pressure was exerted from within Iraq, especially the Iraqi exiles that made up the Governing Council during the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq before sovereignty was granted. The reasons for this are relatively transparent – sovereignty meant great power for those already entrenched in the embryonic Iraqi administration. Pressure was also exerted from the international community including most notably France. This pressure has its roots in competing power rivalries. Perhaps France had something to gain from a prematurely independent Iraq. This was of course stated in altruistic terms – something along the lines of “Iraq should be independent as soon as possible because that is the right thing to do. Domination of a people by a foreign power is just plain wrong.” Ironically, it is this very reason why the US granted sovereignty when it did. In the end, Americans do not feel it is right to dominate. The only answer is sovereignty ASAP no matter the consequences.

And what have been the consequences?

Stalled Economic Reform – The state dominated economy of the Saddam Era is now being rejuvenated. The necessary privatizations of the State Owned Enterprises did not occur. This will have dramatic consequences on the Iraqi economy. The private sector will be squeezed out to the detriment of wealth creation and democratic development.

Increased Corruption – The CPA did not have enough time to properly rid the Iraqi ministries of corruption and inculcate a culture of honest administration. This will in turn prove devastating to private sector investment and economic growth. The consequences for the establishment of democracy will also prove exceptionally powerful as systems of patronage are entrenched.

Incorporation of Factional Influences – The CPA did not have the time nor took proper care to keep the militias, notably the Shia Badr Brigade, from entrenching itself in the government, especially the Ministry of Interior and its corresponding security forces. This could prove the very undoing of the country for it is creating great disunity between Sunnis and Shias while arming a potential major combatant in a possible Iraqi civil war.

So we now know the larger consequences of early sovereignty in Iraq but what of the misguided ideas from which this stemmed? It is a natural consequence of the definition of international political organization that Western Civilization has now set for the world. Indeed, it is the very definition that the United States has long espoused, especially after the First World War and the prominence of Wilsonian idealism. This idealism is based on the assumption that every nation is entitled to a state and that this is the ideal order for the international arena. This world view runs completely contrary to its immediate forerunner, imperialism.

Empires have existed since the dawn of civilization. From the time of the Assyrian Empire in the Fertile Crescent right up to the British Empire and the present day, empires have been a constant form of political organization. As states and city states have risen and waned, there has always been some form of empire whether through the direct administration of foreign territories to indirect rule through proxies to the payment of tribute to lopsided alliances made possible by donor assistance and IMF lending. Nation states as we know them are actually fairly recent with the commonly agreed upon birth being the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.

Following World War II, the world experienced in various waves, the strong current of de-colonization and the retreat of all the imperial powers save the United States and the Soviet Union. In quick succession, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Portugal either granted independence to their colonies, ceded them to other powers, or watched impotently as they were seized away. All this took place within a context originally inspired heavily by Wilson but also reiterated by FDR during World War II. The US therefore played the largest role in the setting up the context during the 20th Century through which imperialism and subsequent de-colonization was to be appraised. Independence now came to be seen as the end-all for all aspiring nations. Independence was a necessary precondition for economic development and democracy. However, the majority of decolonized states since World War II have remained places with negligible if any economic progress and even less democratic development. Political independence for nations is not always good, especially where there was previously no nation as is the case with many former colonies.

This is not to say that the opposite is always true. Political domination as espoused by the European imperial powers of the 19th Century was by far a mixed bag with some colonies experiencing brutal subjugation. Today, reality is somewhere caught in between. Some states would benefit from imperial rule whether direct or indirect. Others would benefit more from independence. In the end, the most important lesson to be learned is that Americans should not view imperialism as automatically negative in all its forms. Intellectually, this is not a difficult step but it represents a very large moral leap for it runs counter to all that we are taught and appears at first glance to be contrary to our political culture. Apart from all the other problems we face in our current “War on Terror” and efforts to bring democracy and free markets in the wake of regime change in rogue states, we cannot hope to prevail if from the very beginning we are not intellectually open to the seemingly radical concept that the nation-state is not necessarily the ideal unit of political organization for all corners of the world. Also, it may take much longer to successfully build nation states in some places than in others. The political world is a spectrum of forms. It is not black and white. This does not mean that truths do not exist. After all, freedom should be sought for all humanity because it in itself is good. However, independence and freedom are not one in the same. Perhaps the former can be an obstacle to the latter. This is a vital intellectual leap that must be made for the continuation of America’s world leadership and for the spread of democracy and free markets.

No comments: