Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Cheered by the news I've heard, today I'll let Armed Liberal of Winds of Change start out for me.

Romantic? Perhaps. But I believe that cynics -- and I'll include myself here -- owe it to our ideas, and our hopes, to pay fresh respect to that part of the American character. Not that optimism is always the avenue to political success. But sometimes it is; and at those moments, it's hard to convince Americans of anything except their exceptionalism.

Let us try to imagine a world where this occupation will end joyously. It is too much for me even to imagine that Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim and Sayed Hassan Nasrallah will lead their people into cooperation with United States efforts to build a democracy and rebuilt the country under American leadership. I can't say it's impossible, but I can't imagine it even as a hypothetical case. So let's assume they follow popular sentiment grudgingly if at all, but the people of Iraq sweep along in a groundswell.

Of course fellow Anglospheric member Great Britain has tried to occupy and rebuild Iraq for their own good already, but the current occupation which includes them has at least two advantages. First, our both perceived and real near omnipotence. I think the army there now is the first one not only capable of defeating the Iraqi military while taking few casualties, but even of doing so while inflicting the minimum possible number of deaths on the enemy population. Second, our prosperity. We can afford what must be done, while Britain had already been bled by her attempts to hold onto her empire for quite some time when she acquired the Iraqi mandate.

This being a day for optimism, I'm also trying to imagine our using Iraqi oil to pay for rebuilding Iraqi infrastructure, give the Iraqi people what they need to survive on, and pay for the occupation at the same time. This doesn't make it easy. It's something else I can't swear is impossible but I can't describe a scenario where it might happen. One thing will help though.

Although the debt write-offs would be spread far and wide, some of the biggest hits would be taken by countries such as Russia and France, which supplied Saddam Hussain with military gear and other goods before the 1991 Gulf War and have been staunch opponents of the current conflict.

Although some friendly parties will suffer, we'll certainly have political cover for letting Iraq start with a clean slate. It's possible that they never would have invaded Kuwait if it wasn't for the crushing load of debt already present after the Iran-Iraq war. It's a pity there wasn't some other way to deal with that, but recent diplomatic friction with Russia and France could actually contribute. Oddly enough, they might be able to accept this. They have to already be aware that all the Iraqi money and contracts owed them on paper are worth very little. Iraq will never pay anything to anybody unless they are heavily discounted so that they can rebuild.

Even today it's still hard to imagine Iraq can rebuilt itself while also using oil money to pay for the American occupation. If it can't, we can still hope for a good outcome. For all the liberals who've been thinking we should spend more on foreign aid, here's our chance. As for the conservatives - when faced with the stark choice of a triumph turning into a public Iraqi disaster or going along, they might go along, at least to the extent of paying for our own occupation costs. How we will do that is a whole other question, but we are the richest country in the world.

Which still leaves us with the need to build a democracy. It's been tried before in Iraq, but never by an army that could defeat the enemy so handily. It would be easy to imagine a scenario where repeated suicidal attacks drain good will dry as in Isreal, but for today let's try to imagine something else. Iraq was actually doing rather well at modernizing for awhile, before the Iran Iraq war. This is actually one of the similarities to Japan prior to the Marshall plan - I've discussed the differences previously.

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