What happens after the

What happens after the war is a very good question. One would hope that the US government has put a great deal of thought and preparation in to the post-war reconstruction of Iraq’s infrastructure and social support systems, but the current situation in Afghanistan does leave ample room for doubt. Afghanistan is being left essentially to build its own path, with a moderate force of peacekeepers in the region to discourage any large-scale insurrections. The west is very interested in seeing the Afghan government evolve in to a stable democracy, but the truth is that the fate of Afghanistan is not of utmost concern. So long as it does not again become a haven for extremist reactionaries the west seems content to allow it to struggle along on its own.

Iraq is a different situation altogether. Strategically located in the middle of a most important geographic locale with easy air and sea access, it simply does not compare with Afghanistan in any way. Furthermore, Iraq actually has civic institutions based on a secular model that can be easily resurrected from the post-war turmoil. Afghanistan’s social and civic constructs were somewhat limited and devoted inordinately to maintaining a state of religious purity. There simply was “no there there” to begin with. In Iraq, assuming the west is so motivated, a new civic order can be established with relative ease.

One of the pressing issues will be what form the new government will take. As I read the accounts and speak with various other people it becomes somewhat clear that the one thing that will not happen will be a handing over of the government to opposition figures. This is very reassuring, for eschewing the easy path makes it necessary for the west to engage in a long-term effort at nation-building, a prospect which Iraq is uniquely suited for.

One of the primary positives for Iraq is that it has now and in the past been a secular society. There are strong religious institutions in the nation, but they do not run the government and have had little say in public policy for a very long time. Give the Iraqi people an opportunity to run their own affairs and it is not a forgone conclusion that they would turn solely to the mosques for leadership. Difficulty lies in the lack of a fundamental democratic tradition- for a very long time there has only been one real choice on any ballot and voting has been merely an exercise in stroking the ego of the current strong man.

Another large positive is oil. Iraq has a ready source of national income, meaning that it will not long require the huge influx of financial and material aid that other nations require. Assuming that any significant portion of the petroleum infrastructure escapes destruction at the hand of some misguided scorched-earth defense Iraq will immediately begin earning the capital it needs to rebuild on its own terms. This is a psychological advantage that cannot be overstated- they will be masters of their own destiny.

A very real danger in the post-war scenario is the possibility of other Arab nations offering aid. What this will doubtless consist of is food, building materials, and of course schools. To be more precise, madrasas- Islamic religious schools which have formed the basis of the groundswell of anti-western sentiment over the past decades. This alone is reason enough to keep other Middle Eastern nations out of post-war Iraq. It will be a delicate, but necessary point for the west to win.

Another very real danger is the destabilization of world oil markets. There will be a run up of oil prices once the war begins, but a quick ending should rapidly put an end to that. Once the west begins opening up Iraq’s oil production prices will likely fall somewhat. One can speculate what the west’s ultimate goals are in the Gulf region, however, precipitating another conflict directly on the heels of an successful Iraq operation is not one of them. If the west threatens to destabilize OPEC those nations will act, probably not with open warfare, but perhaps with a shut-off of oil supplies. Iraq’s reserves cannot take up all that slack. This muddies the future and must be avoided- the assorted theocracies and dictatorships of the region will need time to assimilate what has happened if any real progress is to be made at anything other than the point of a bayonet. The governments and peoples of the Middle East need to see a swift victory followed by a relatively peaceful occupation and a foundation of liberty and prosperity. That alone will put the proper fear in to those who would hold their peoples in thrall.

This can be done. The west can do it. The only question is does it have the will to see it through. Only time will tell.

Afterword: Stanley Kurtz has an interesting take on the effort to democratize Iraq, and why Iraq bears no resemblance to World War II Japan. He foresees a difficult, but not impossible task, simultaneously dragging the overly-optimistic and the reflexively pessimistic towards a more realistic point of view.

2 Responses to “What happens after the”

  1. Interesting- I was reading this post while watching Rumsfeld’s press conference on Fox News. It seemed like you and he were in synch, particularly about the oil revenues… creepy.

    And your “various other people” are…?

  2. The above comment was first posted on 01/20/2003 before re-posting here.