Lawrence Kaplan: Building democracy and avoiding ethnic strife
The first imperative is to establish security, basic services — water and electricity — and then, after that, the issue is really to rebuild Iraqi political society. That means building democratic institutions, building basic institutions for civil administration, and sorting out the question of postwar governance. And I’d say the greatest threat in that respect is the prospect of ethnic conflict, because this is a land that has never known or only briefly known any form of government that could fairly be called politically representative. There is the danger of a zero-sum game or a winner-take-all scenario whereby each ethnic group worries that if another group has the spoils, they’ll be left out.
We’re not just talking about having elections. We’re talking about establishing the foundations of democratic political life. That can mean having civic forums at the local level, it means education, it means undoing the entire Baathist system. Obviously you’re not going to have democracy overnight, and the process is going to take years. That said, movement toward that end can certainly begin within months.
I don’t view support for the United Nations as necessarily proof of heightened moral awareness or fealty to liberal values. I think in many respects it’s an extraordinarily illiberal institution. But having said that, in terms of mollifying the concerns of our erstwhile allies, they could certainly play a role in at least the humanitarian — though not the political — reconstruction of Iraq. There should certainly be some emphasis on fence-building where there are commonalities, and there should probably be more care taken with regard to the tone administration officials use when they speak of our allies. There is a tendency to be somewhat and unnecessarily contemptuous and strident when speaking of allies. With France, I think the mending is up to them. They’re the ones who’ve really thrown a wrench into the international system, not us. So I see no need to take any steps to mollify the French, or for that matter the Germans. I think the ball is very much in their court.
Iraq was a unique case that gathered all of the dangers of our time in one place, and I don’t think you’ll see the experience being repeated anytime soon. With regard to changing the political character of the Arab world, political and diplomatic and possibly economic pressure is the key. The administration’s hope is that Iraq will somehow serve as a template — a pivot or a model, as it were, for democratic change in the Middle East. But I don’t think we’ll be seeing the US resort to force against Iran or Syria. And I think the notion that they are is sort of a trope used to scare people and make them think that the Bush administration is bananas. I don’t think anybody’s planning military action. The kind of things that worked in the 1980s to enhance the cause of democracy should be re-emphasized, whether it’s support for dissidents, using sanctions, or, most important, speaking out vocally about repression.
We can’t continue to treat Saudi Arabia as we’ve treated them. We’ve had this Faustian bargain for decades where, in exchange for basing rights and oil, we turned a blind eye to whatever it is they do within their borders. On 9/11 we paid a price for that, and it’s just no longer sustainable. So while I’m certainly not countenancing military action against countries like Syria and Saudi Arabia, I think, unfortunately, their business has become our business. And it’s just imperative that we pressure them to liberalize.
Lawrence Kaplan is a senior editor at the New Republic and co-author — with Weekly Standard editor William Kristol — of The War over Iraq: Saddam’s Tyranny and America’s Mission (Encounter Books, 2003).
Jessica Tuchman Mathews: Our history casts doubt on motives
We need to recognize what a difficult and long-term enterprise it will be to leave behind an Iraq that is stable and has some semblance of a pluralistic government. I think the past doesn’t matter so much as the future. We’ve always known the rebuilding phase would be the tougher one. If we choose to make it more multilateral than unilateral, we can. I personally believe that would be very much in our interest, because it would enormously bolster the political legitimacy with which we confront these really tough tasks and these really hard choices. It would also allow us to share the economic burden, and distribute it more widely.
I very much believe that we would terribly regret a decision to abandon a posture toward the rest of the world that has governed us, under both parties, since 1945. It would be a catastrophic mistake. The first step is what we do in Iraq, which is to make clear that we recognize the need for the maximum possible legitimacy of what is going to be an extraordinarily difficult political reconstruction. The next step is to care. We know we can rebuild our transatlantic relationship if we care about it, and if we can get beyond the rather childish name-calling that’s gone back and forth over the last weeks. The third step, and I guess in some ways perhaps the most important, is a national discussion about what kind of country we want to be, what’s the role we want to play in the world. Do we see our long-term interests as basically running the world alone, or sharing that burden and operating under a strong rule of law? If it’s the latter, there will be times when we’re constrained. If it’s the former, we will be less constrained but vastly more burdened. The lesson of history is clear beyond all question, which is: it will fail long-term.
It’s very, very hard for anybody in the region to believe that we undertook this war out of a desire to promote democracy when they know our history there much better than we do. And not just our history, but also Western history. This is why we have so little legitimacy in the Middle East, and why what we’re doing in Iraq is viewed with such suspicion.
We should recognize the limits on what we can do and how much we can change from outside. We almost certainly don’t have the resources to make sure that Iraq turns out well alone. We would certainly not have them if we were to go about deposing other regimes. Also, we have to recognize that a great many of the autocratic regimes in the Middle East, if they were to be removed from power and a democratic process followed, would be replaced by something far worse — such as radical Islamists, as we could end up with in Iraq.
You operate in ignorance, you end in regret. Caution and long-term commitment, I think, would be my bywords.
Jessica Tuchman Mathews is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her 1997 article "Power Shift," on the changing role of the nation-state in the age of globalization, was chosen by the editors of Foreign Affairs as among the most influential in that publication’s 75-year history.
Khaled Abou El Fadl: Stop double standard on Israel, Saudi Arabia
We must avoid becoming an occupying force rather than a force of liberation. There are already rising protests in Iraq against the American presence, and considerable religious hostility to certain American conduct, such as not intervening to prevent the looting of Iraq’s national heritage and the unfortunate decision by the Bush administration to allow Christian missionaries to enter Iraq in the company of American forces. This smacks of the conduct of colonial powers. There is a widespread perception that the US is hinging its humanitarian aid to being receptive to the message of the missionaries. It is important that we turn over the administration of Iraq to Iraqis, and that we immediately put a stop to the practice of awarding contracts to American companies to rebuild Iraq, without any Iraqi input whatsoever in the process of selecting and awarding these contracts.
If we insist on working alone, we reinforce the notion that we have become an international bully, and that we are arrogantly dismissive of the opinions and views of everyone except our own. It is not good long-term policy to systematically reinforce the notion that we do not at all care about the views of Arabs, who, after all, are the people who are most affected by the developments in their region. It is also not good long-term policy to give the impression that we are only open to Israeli input and Israeli views, and that we are dismissive towards everyone else. Do we really want to aggravate the feeling of anti-Americanism around the world? Do we really want to pick a fight with the whole world, except for a few countries like Israel and England? It is not in our long-term best interests to have half the world fear us. The best thing we could do is to give the UN a large role, and to stop threatening Syria and Iran.
We do not sound very credible when we support Saddam when he fights Iran but protest his despotism when he fights Kuwait. It was Rumsfeld himself who pioneered the policy of supporting Saddam in the fight against Iran. Similarly, it makes little sense for us to support despotic regimes in power in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, etc., but to pretend that we cannot live with Syria’s despotism.
Saudi Arabia has been allowed to indulge in much unbelievable hypocrisy. It is due time that the Saudi people are allowed to overthrow this horrendous dictatorship and establish a democratic order. This cannot be done by invading Saudi Arabia. But we must stop supplying the Saudi regime with the means by which it is able to discover dissidents and crush them before they’ve had a chance to voice their protest.
It is also not good for our credibility when we are not at all critical of Israeli occupation and despotic policies towards the Palestinians, but are critical of a semi-democracy like Iran. Either we take human rights seriously or not. If we do take human rights seriously, then we do not deal with or support all human-rights abusers, which includes Israel and Saudi Arabia. We do not supply them with arms and do not provide them with intelligence and surveillance equipment. But the policy of double standards that Bush seems intent on sustaining and promoting will backfire in the long term, and we will create something like the Iranian revolution all over the Middle East.
Khaled Abou El Fadl is the Omar and Azmeralda Afi Distinguished Fellow in Islamic Law at UCLA and the author of The Place of Tolerance in Islam (Beacon Press, 2002). His essay "Islam and the Challenge of Democracy" appears in the current issue of the Boston Review.