2002 September 30 Monday
Post War Afghanistan and Iraq Questions

In a harsh (and I think deserved) critique of Al Gore's recent speech about Bush's foreign policy Charles Krauthammer brings up US policy toward post-Taliban Afghanistan:

There is a serious question about how deeply involved in Afghanistan we ought to be. Are we more likely to bring stability by continuing Afghanistan's long history of decentralization and allowing warlords to act in their traditional areas of influence, or by sending an imperial army to go around imposing order in places where outsiders -- the British and the Soviets most notably -- have not had much luck imposing their own order?

The effort required for the US to try to impose a more unified and centralized government on Afghanistan would be enormous in troops required, number of years, casualties, and financial costs. It would literally take generations to be entirely successful. I think the Bush Administration has made the right choice in opting for the more minimal solution that is designed to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a base for Al Qaeda. Yes, that means nasty regional warlords rule in various cities and districts. But this has been the case for all of the last 100 years and even longer. The alternative seems like a huge effort that provides very little benefit to the US or to the rest of the world.

The Post War Iraq Settlement Is More Important

Iraq also is a country with unnatural borders and strong internal divisions. The Shias and Kurds do not want to be ruled from Baghdad by Sunni Arabs. Even the Sunni population has many of the same characteristics that limit the political development of much of the Arab world. We should not think that after Saddam is gone we can be as successful in imposing a form of government as we were with post-WWII Japan and Germany.

So what to do? Should we try to create a new central government that firmly rules the entire country? Or spin off the Sunni Arab part into a federation with Jordan? Or make a federation with more devolution of power to the Kurdish and Shia regions?

Also, the oil fields are in the Kurdish region. So that makes a division especially difficult for the viability of the rest of the country. Plus, the Turks do not want an independent Kurdish state on their border that would encourage their own Kurds to try harder to secede. The US is relying on Turkish help against Saddam so its probable that Bush has promised the Turks that there will be no independent Kurdish state.

The decision of what to do with post-Saddam Iraq will have orders of magnitude greater consequences in the long run than the decision of what to do with post-Taliban Afghanistan. It is not at all clear to me what ought to be done. Unfortunately the public debate over this issue is mostly limited to discussions about whether to overthrow Saddam in the first place and the issue is usually raised by people who are arguing against the coming attack on Iraq. Well given that Bush is determined to take out Saddam's regime (a decision I fully agree with) we ought to move on to the next important question: what to do about Iraq afterwards?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 September 30 11:05 PM  Mideast Iraq


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