Obligatory Post on Iraq

I haven’t had a post about Iraq. In general, I’ve avoided it because its generally not regarded as an economic issue, and because by the time I began blogging a few months ago, the situation had deteriorated to the point where the cheerleaders were in such denial that any discussion about Iraq inevitably would resemble the debate between a biologist and a creationist. Rational disagreement is one thing, but just as I have no wish to waste time having a “civilized debate” with some clod who would actually write that tax receipts have doubled since 2003 (and who presumably knows that the actual figures are just sitting there on the OMB website), there was no real point in arguing with those who 3 months ago insisted that things were going swimmingly in Iraq.

I was born in the US, but I grew up in a (relatively mild) military dictatorship. I also grew up next door to (and had relatives who were citizens of) somewhat more violent military dictatorships – places where the words “dirty war” meant the disappearance of tens of thousands of people, and the word “disappearance” meant death, often preceded by torture. All that is to say – I have no problems with the concept of taking out dictators simply because it is the right thing to do, but at the same cost as what was expended taking out Saddam Hussein, quite a few dictators (some more vicious, some oppressing more people) could have been taken out.

But what happens after you take out a dictatorship? Well, clearly, even the administration admits that planning for this was poor. Actually… it was worse than poor – I personally knew there was going to be a problem when Wolfowitz said there was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq. I’ve never been to the Middle East, and am certainly no scholar of the region, but I knew that statement was bs. Which meant that either one of the chief architects of the war was operating under a false (important) assumption, or he was deliberately feeding us bs about something important. Either way, not a good sign.

But does the fall of a dictatorship have to be violent? No. I remember seeing a dictatorship fall – not from a few thousand miles away, but from right there, in the country. The next day, it was business as usual. Sure, the mood was different, but everyone still had to earn a living, and people still had to eat.

(As an aside… In South America, the fall of various dictatorships became inevitable when the military lost the will to shoot enough people to stay in power. The Argentine junta would still be in power in Argentina if they’d simply and without a fuss gunned down the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo – the mothers of the disappeared who marched in front of the Presidential Palace every Thursday. In the beginning even that wouldn’t have been necessary – “disappearing” the first twenty or so of the Mothers would have ended the whole movement. Or to use a more celebrated example – if the leaders of the Soviet coup that had arrested Gorbachev had simply shot Boris Yeltsin and the handful of supporters who rallied outside the Russian White House in the early hours after the coup, the coup would have been successful. Think Tiananmen Square, except that none of us would have heard about that either had the Chinese authorities moved in weeks earlier. I’m sure they’ve learned that lesson.)

But is violence inevitable if the fall of a dictatorship is brought about by external forces? Then, once again, the answer is no. If the dictatorship’s forces have been thoroughly beaten, they fight no more – and it doesn’t really matter what the enemy that beat them is like. Germans knew that they were better being taken prisoner by the Anglo-Americans than by the Soviets, and they may have gone out of their way to surrender to the former, but when the war was over, the fighting simply stopped – on all fronts. The myths of the werewolves and the Alpenfestung were just that – myths. In the Pacific – a few Japanese soldiers “fought” on until as late as the 1960s and 1970s, but only because they didn’t know Japan itself had been beaten. Those that knew ceased fighting as soon as the Emperor called for it.

Arguably, Iraq had not been thoroughly beaten – most Iraqi units had not even participated in any battle by the time Iraq surrendered. But I suspect once Saddam fell, everyone had seen enough to know that if the Coalition of the Willing had been willing to utterly devastate Iraq, it could have done so. In other words… even without the physical beating, the psychic beating had still been inflicted.

So what happened? Why is there violence in Iraq? Well… some thoughts… While Germany and Japan surrendered completely after World War 2, there was always some amount of partisan activity in the countries that Germany and Japan had conquered. (Granted, in most cases it was minimal, but, say, Danish or Polish resistance against the Germans existed years after Denmark and Poland surrendered, but German resistance after VE day was non-existent.) In part, that is because the war was ongoing, and because the partisans felt their cause was just. In other words, there was still hope for a final victory, and fighting on was the right thing to do.

Regardless of whether these views make any sense to anyone who has facts at their disposal, US activities have allowed these views – that beating the US possible, and that it is the right thing to do – to take hold and to spread. Honestly, at this point things have deteriorated so much its hard to say how to fix it. And I wasn’t blogging at the time, so I can’t quote myself. But I can tell you what I told friends of mine, both in person and in e-mail, at the time. To put things in terms that GW would have understood, namely that idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Keep people busy and they won’t have anything to do with the fanatics. But if people unemployed, bored and desperate, you will create a lot of fanatics.

My prescription for a permanent victory – in the form of a peaceful, pro-Western, eventually democratic Iraq was to do the following for the first few years:

1. Put every adult Iraqi to work. Those that don’t have jobs – have them build roads and dams and any other infrastructure that is needed. Pay them well – they’ll do a better job than foreign contractors. And if nobody can find enough jobs to employ everyone, pay some of them dig holes, and the rest to fill those holes up. But keep them busy and well fed, and make sure they have a stake in their own country.
2. Make sure every child is also busy. Keep them all in school. After school… well, form soccer leagues. Soccer balls are a cheap way to ensure nobody listens to the clerics.
3. Imprison anyone – and I mean anyone, including American contractors – who break the law of the land. Do not accept corruption even from our puppet regime.

(Aside number 2: I guess none of this was an option for the folks running the show because there isn’t enough “free market” in here. After all, that’s what all those Heritage Foundation interns went to Iraq to instill. Of course, they didn’t believe enough in the power of the free market to let that be the determinant of whether Saddam should be in power or not.)

So… what do you think? Would my simple prescription have worked?