Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Bush Adventure Expensive Political Science Experiment

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Bush Adventure Expensive Political Science Experiment

Article excerpt

The Policy Institute for Religion and State (PIFRAS) convened an April 28 panel discussion at the Senate Dirksen Building in Washington, DC, to assess prospects for pluralistic and democratic governance in Afghanistan and Iraq. Moderator John Prabhudoss, director of PIFRAS, expressed his wish that the United States have the "appetite to stay and build a democracy" in Iraq, and implied that the process had not been taken seriously in Afghanistan. Prabhudoss insisted that the U.S. has an obligation to help build a pluralist liberal democracy in both countries, with freedom of expression, religion, and human rights.

Dr. Michael Hudson, professor of international relations and Arab studies at Georgetown University, posed the question of how favorable Iraq's political terrain is for a liberal democratic project. The study of democratic transition in most underdeveloped countries focuses on the nature of and relationship between the state and society, and the history of their political culture. The good news, said Hudson, is that Iraq is no blank slate. Until the end of the 1980s, Iraq was the most developed country in the Arab world, and its human indicators were comparable to Southern and Eastern Europe. Saddam Hussain's regime even won a UNESCO prize for its highly successful anti-illiteracy campaign. Per capita income was high, the economy was promising (even in non-oil sectors), literacy was high, and the pool of skilled manpower was "at the top."

However, noted Hudson, Iraq's "disastrous decision of 1990 [to invade Kuwait] was followed by debilitating sanctions, by which many of the promising accomplishments were undone. Iraq has slipped back catastrophically."

Hudson briefly summarized post-Ottoman Iraqi political structures, from the British-installed constitutional monarchy to the single-party, state-dominated model from 1958 onward. Nevertheless, there was a strong history of political activity and participation, and Iraq developed "dense political structures normally understood to be among the prerequisites of a stable, functioning, liberal democracy." In 1979, under Saddam Hussain, the government developed into a tyranny, and the great monetary resources available to the regime allowed it to develop the comprehensive tools of a mukhabarat, or informant-based, state. Hussain's regime was very concerned about deviant political activity, and over the course of his rule independent institutions were suppressed.

In light of this history, observed Hudson, it was no surprise that "chaos erupted" after the latest war. The Bush administration, he argued, did not understand the nature of social and political institutions under Hussain. The most durable groups during Hussain's rule were, as is normal, religion- and kinship-based. The war did not free "a lot of suppressed liberal democrats," Hudson quipped. "Rather, in an atmosphere of chaos laced with uncertainty, there has been an emergence of factions in the south centered around religious figures, and of Kurdish ethnic national groups in the north." Neighbors like Iran are "finding troubled waters to fish in," he said, and there is also an appearance of self-styled local personalities, and others linked to tribal groups. Hudson described the Bush adventure as "the most expensive political science experiment that's ever been undertaken."

Comparing the current situation with Lebanon, Hudson was adamant that the United States should not leave Iraq too soon for fear of total collapse, but cautioned that over-staying its welcome may make the U. …

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