Some good points raised by Neal Ascherson on the post-war needs of Iraq.
Incredibly, with American tanks half way to Baghdad, there is still no agreement on how to run a military occupation regime, let alone on a programme to reconstruct an Iraqi state. (The best suggestion so far is for a UN “blue police force” drawn from Muslim countries to restore order and justice at local level.) But last week’s quarrel at Brussels is not as serious as it looks: Tony Blair is evasive about free elections in Iraq, but at least he and Chirac seem to agree that the security council must authorise a post-Saddam civil authority. The real trouble is in Washington.
No surprises there then. He goes on to ask what kind of state a post-Saddam Iraq might be, looking at some of the past methods used for what is rather patronisingly called ‘nation building’.
What sort of state? The example of postwar Germany suggests that the best ideology for the purpose is social democracy. One of the first things the British did in their zone of Germany was to sponsor a new trade union confederation, the sheet anchor of democracy in the years to come. But this approach is now unthinkable. So is any “Mesopotamian Marshall plan”. Instead, Iraq will probably be abandoned to the joys of an uncontrolled free-market regime, supervised by the World Bank.
He makes a telling point about the problems of going down such a road:
Iraq owes foreign financiers some $200bn to $400bn in debt. If the experience of Serbia after its own “regime change” is anything to go by, almost all the financial aid offered by the “international community” will be clawed back into debt repayment. Iraq’s oil revenues of some $10bn a year will probably go on being managed by the UN oil-for-food programme. The Iraqis, in other words, will be generously permitted to go on paying for their own food and medicine. Moreover, the Saddam regime was maintained not only by terror but by an enormous network of kinship-based corruption. The tale of post-communist Europe suggests that if a one-party controlled economy is instantly opened to unregulated capitalism, party networks of clientship turn rapidly and naturally into relationships of organised crime.
He is right but of course we can all sit around and theorise about what might be the best system to impose on Iraq, the fact is that Iraq will have its own ideas. The left in democracies can put pressure on our government’s to commit to a positive engagement, to provide real aid and assistance and to help strengthen Iraqi democracy but we must prepare ourselves to deal with the responses from our government’s that the Iraqis won’t like. As Ascherson puts it:
Liberation hurts. In Iraq, it comes with humiliation and fear about the future. A UN transition regime must replace the military governors as soon as possible, and must move quickly towards democracy. And the White House fanatics have to realise that a free Iraq cannot be designed to suit their ideology. It will be ungrateful. It will have policies they dislike. This is called independence. If it is denied, then the real liberation of Iraq will happen unpredictably, and bloodily, in the future.