I recently read someone (and now can't find the quote; anyone know which essay I'm referring to and by whom?) arguing that one element that will be missing once the US and its allies conquer Iraq that was present when the allies conquered Japan and Germany in World War II is the devastation that the World War II conquests brought. The Iraqis will not suffer the way the Germans and Japanese did and will not see ruin and death on a scale that the surviving Germans and Japanese witnessed. He therefore argued that the Iraqis will not see as clearly the failure of the old order and will therefore be less malleable for democracy-building purposes. The author (rightly) did not see that it would be morally acceptable to take that as a reason to cause massive devastation in Iraq. He merely argued that our coming attempt to create a viable democracy in Iraq will be made harder because the people in Iraq will not see the old regime as having led to as much total pain and destruction to Iraq as the Germans and Japanese saw. Therefore the old order will not be seen to have been as totally discredited as the Nazis and the militarist emperor-worshippers were in Germany and Japan at the end of WWII.
While the argument sounds incredibly hard-nosed and realpolitik it is naive because it fails to comprehend the nature of Iraqi and Arab society. As is the case in other Arab countries where loyalty to the government and nation is weak the Iraqi people do not identify with or feel much loyalty toward Iraq as a nation-state in the way that Westerners feel loyalty toward governments and nations. Because the Iraqis and Arabs in other Middle Eastern states do not feel that loyalty they will not feel that they are the ones being conquered and defeated. To them it what is about to happen in Iraq will be a defeat of Saddam Hussein, his extended family and his top level servants. It will be seen as a change at the top where one elite takes out another elite. The bulk of Iraqis will feel more like spectators. The reason for this feeling is that they do not feel allegiance to the abstraction (which exists in the minds of Westerners far more than in the minds of Iraqis) that is supposedly being defeated.
The Iraqis have loyalties that compete strongly with their feelings of loyalty to the Iraqi government. The highest loyalty is to their extended families and beyond that to Islam and also to the larger Arab culture. So out of 4 possible loyalties only one of them is being defeated and it is not their chief or even likely their second loyalty that is being defeated. This is not going to cause them to radically reexamine their loyalties. They will not see this coming change in regime as a reason to transfer loyalties to the new democracy that the United States will try to create in Iraq.
If the United States government wants to pursue policies in Iraq that would help foster a change in the culture of Iraq so that its people become capable of having significant loyalties to a nation-state then it is family structure that has to be tackled first and foremost. With that in mind here are some suggestions for how to accomplish that change:
These suggestions would undoubtedly take decades to reduce family and tribal loyalties enough to make Iraq even as capable of liberal democracy as Turkey is today. But there is no fast and easy way to change the characteristics of Arab societies that do so much to hold back political development of the Arab countries.
If you find these suggestions to constitute an excessive and illiberal intervention in the culture of another society and yet if you still favor the overthrow of Saddam's regime and installation of democracy you need to find another way that has real prospects for success to accomplish the changes that are required to make an Arab society capable of supporting a non-corrupt liberal democracy.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2003 January 02 08:48 PM Reconstruction and Reformation|