Friday, April 11, 2003

Don't Rush the Iraqi Handover!

Many parties are currently making a big fuss about the necessity for as rapid a handover of Iraq to domestic rule as possible, but this advice is a recipe for disaster. If there is one thing to be learned from the experience of decolonization across the world, it is that it is not enough to simply organize elections and then withdraw from a country to set it up for long-term stability. Without the establishment of a competent and honest civil service, and the implantation of respect for the rule of law, no regime set up in Iraq will prosper for long, but civil service reform and the establishment of respect for the law aren't things to be accomplished in 6 months or even 2 years, especially in a country that has known nothing but arbitrary rule for three decades.

There is an understandable anxiety about respecting international sensibilities, but one shouldn't let such sensitivities get in the way of doing the right thing. Germany and Japan both required several years of occupation before they were ready to stand on their own, and these were countries in which competent civil services, strong private sectors and the rudiments of democracy had existed at some prior point. What is more, they suffered none of the fissiparous tendencies of modern-day Iraq, with its' Kurds, Sunnites and Shiites and their differing agendas. Were America to hastily withdraw from Iraq, only to see it collapse into chaos and civil strife, the very same parties now agitating for a quick withdrawal would be accusing the Americans of cutting-and-running, just as they now do in the case of Afghanistan. They won't remember that they were the ones pushing for a hasty retreat, saying "the XYZ people do not wish to be ruled by a foreign power."

Given that the Americans are damned if they do leave early, and Iraq subsequently sinks into war, and damned if they don't cut-and-run, as imperialist dictators, it is incumbent on them to simply sweat out the criticism and stay long enough to do the right thing by the people of Iraq. That means no hasty withdrawal of American troops and substitution of poorly trained, lightly-armed blue helmets, no delegation of rebuilding and relief to the United Nations and unaccountable NGOs, and no insistence on a handover to an Iraqi government, without a solid written constitution in place and establishment of a vibrant, critical local press.