Tuesday, January 14, 2003

I read a James Pinkerton column in Newsday today. I'm skeptical about what's going to happen if we occupy Iraq as well, but I hope I'm wrong, because it seems like it will be done. Pinkerton alludes to the difference in spirit between today and the great wars where rich politically well connected men served with honor in the military. He mentions Theodore Roosevelt in 1898, but not George Bush senior in world war II.

Still, he's gotten me back to thinking about the long term prospects of the occupation following the next war. While a war in North Korea would be much more bloody than the invasion of Iraq, it's by no means clear that the building of a democratic government afterwards will be easier in Iraq. After all, look at the reunification of Germany after the fall of the Berlin wall. Two halves of what had formerly been a unified country reunited - as a democracy. The cost was huge, but it was mostly paid by the West Germans. Of course Germany had had some experience as an independent democracy prior to division, in addition to the West German experience parallel to South Korean democracy.

I'm not really suggesting we should after all fight North Korea, just trying to build a base for thinking about the formidable task George W. Bush proposes - rebuilding Iraq as a democracy. Let us not give up hope of it - especially not those of us who don't believe we should put ourselves in a position where we must succeed or suffer serious consequences. Instead, let us use our privileged position. The president and his strongest supporters may feel obliged to gloss over some of the difficulties lest they sap our will to undertake a duty they believe in so strongly. Those of us who feel otherwise may freely and openly consider the difficulties, pleased either to deter the unprepared or to improve the chances of a true triumph of democracy.

If we look at the great twentieth century triumphs of peaceful democracy such as Japan, Germany, Taiwan, and South Korea, we will see they had several things in common. Although some of them were only part of a former whole, none of them were riven internally by serious and constant ethnic strife - at least not to the extent of civil war. All of them had some outside aid in building a prosperous economy, and nobody was looking for a large short or medium term profit or reparation they were willing and able to use force to insist on (one of the reasons the Weimar republic failed).

Iraq is divided between the currently dominant Sunni moslems, the majority Shia who would dominate a pure democracy, and the Kurds who are persecuted by both. A Republic has safeguards so that the majority cannot cook and eat the minority even if the vote to do so is honest. No minority can tolerate a pure democracy when there is a majority who would like to cook and eat them. Yet Iraq has no history as a republic, no history of a government of laws rather than men. In his better moments, Machivelli speaks of how a republic can be created where there is no tradition of it - he considers it the most praiseworthy and difficult achievement of politics. I'm not saying it's impossible, I just want to hear how he plans to do it. I would do my best to help, but I can't seem to wrap my brain around doing it in 18 months at a profit. He has openly acknowledged there are no serious potential leaders among the dissident groups we deal with. Let's assume Saddam doesn't manage to trash all his oil fields on his way out. I want to hear about the constitution of this democracy.

After world war II, we were willing to endure taxes at wartime levels to help rebuild Japan and West Germany. During the cold war, we were not proportionately as generous to South Korea and Taiwan, yet we helped them, partly by shouldering some of their defensive burden. West Germany subsidized East German rebuilding. I cannot think of any case in history where a new democracy turned a profit for it's sponsors in 18 months. Yes I know - oil. Pinkerton quotes a Wall Street Journal article proposing we should pull Iraq out of OPEC and flood the market with their oil. If we still assume Saddam doesn't manage to devastate Iraqi oil fields on the way out, this might produce a short term profit. How it will affect our simultaneous attempts to build a democracy I don't know. I'm not sure how either the Saudi government or the Saudi people would respond either.

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