The American re-Baathification of Iraq

 

 

Chicago, March 13, 2003

 

Now that we’re into a semi-declared war, it does look more and more certain that by the end of this month (or by mid-April at the latest) we’ll be replacing one fascist Iraqi regime with another one of the same type and caliber. This time, however, besides that the new regime will be disinfected from weapons of mass destruction, the much improved fascism of the masses will directly operate under an American panoptical supervision.

 

Various reports in the last two weeks have pointed to a schism within the Bush administration, more precisely, between the state department and the Pentagon. In the Near Eastern unit of the state department, mostly composed of yuppies from the élite colleges, the predominating view has been that such things as “democracy” and “liberalism” cannot be introduced through a forced cesarean action from the outside, but rather through a historical process that grows only internally. Since the Middle East and the Arab-Islamic world never had a full-fledged democracy (expect for Turkey and Israel), the forced implementation of democracy would certainly be a gross failure. The U.S., once it establishes its military rule in Iraq, must therefore opt for a more cautious alternative to the de-Baathification of the country. Such a step would empty the Iraqi bureaucracy from its main cadres, leaving the country in a state of paralysis, and opening the way to more instability. Moreover, an attempt towards “federalism,” as initially proposed by few in the Pentagon, would not moderate that instability—it would simply make it worse.

 

Simply put, we’re back to square one, with a centralized minority Sunni Arab regime that would control the army, bureaucracy, capital, and landownership. To confuse things even more, there might be a solution the Lebanese way: A Sunni president, a Shi‘i prime minister, and a Kurdish house speaker. The entire country would then be under American military supervision, and every ministry, department, and army unit controlled by U.S. intelligence. Such a pseudo-solution would be a rerun to the Gulf war of 1990/1, whose cost was estimated at 60 billion dollars (entirely financed by the Saudis and Kuwaitis), and which brought back the Kuwaiti monarchy intact (even the right of women to vote has never been respected), while neighboring authoritarian regimes were given one more chance to survive for the twenty first century. This time things won’t be much different. The same authoritarian regimes will be given another chance, while a promising Iraqi federalism has already been declared dead in favor of a more autocratic rule at the center. The U.S. has become since the end of the cold war the only superpower in the world indeed, but it lacks the boldness and imagination to go for political and juridical alternatives in the so-called Third World, promoting at the international scene an aura of mediocrity and moral bankruptcy.

 

An academic, journalistic, and artistic literature has consolidated since the 1970s in which the right of societies to maintain their indigenous cultures and customs has become sacrosanct. We’ve thus been ad nauseam preached by politically correct pacifists that multi-ethnic and religious societies cannot be forced to change. Such a literature might fit well within the current academic climate that promotes a general laissez-faire laziness, but its main weakness is that it misrepresents the nature of change in many societies throughout the past century. In effect, international relations prove to be as important a factor in forcing change as internal and regional ones. Examples from World War II abound in that direction. Italy, France, Germany, Japan, Greece, the Philippines, and South Korea, would not have democratized had the Anglo-Americans not controlled Europe and parts of Asia. More recently, the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans would not have been brought to an end were it not for the massive U.S. involvement in the Kosovo war and its forcing its hand over NATO. Afghanistan is an example of a very partial success precisely because there’s no commitment yet to go beyond the central authority in Kabul.

 

To be sure, the Iraqi experience will be much different because the U.S. will not be relying on proxy groups on the ground (meaning no Northern Alliance the Afghani way). The importance of Iraq is not for its oil production, but for its strategic location in a region with lots of potentials. The success of a preliminary wave of democratization will therefore be an outcome of the potentials that are already present in the region as a whole: the Turkish and Israeli democracies, the autonomy of the Iraqi Kurds, Iran’s lively culture, the liberal Lebanese economic system, Qatar’s constitutional monarchy, and above all, all the professional middle classes in the Middle East. A well designed federalism in Iraq might therefore introduce a precedent for a cohesive political-judicial-economic model for multi-ethnic and religious societies that for once would effectively work.

 

The secret behind the successes (and failures) of colonialism (or imperialism) is its inherently diffuse (and hence unfocused) character. Those who argue that the U.S. is after Iraqi (or Saudi) oil miss the point. Liberals and Marxists alike are often caught in Lenin’s bold thesis of “imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism,” and their imagination does not seem to have evolved beyond that point. Since modern imperialism has always implied a re-ordering of the world from the colonialist’s perspective, such arrogance has caused problems for the peaceful and pious souls and created a mass literature centering on the evils of imperialism. Such utopian and essentialist souls, however, have no time playing with historical concepts and looking at things in terms of their political, judicial, and economic components.

 

The pope has therefore no problem meeting with Tariq Aziz, who for decades has been the only Christian (Chaldean Catholic) face in the Baath and Saddam Hussein’s (English) spokesman to the outside world: “We want to say to America: Is it worth it to you? Won’t you have, afterwards, decades of hostility in the Islamic world?” This meeting of the souls between the Vatican and the Baath vanguards—and the above statement comes directly from the mouth of the secretary of state to the Vatican (but it could have been Aziz’s as well)—is as scandalous as the Vatican’s silence over the fate of the Jews in the Holocaust (beautifully chronicled in Costa-Gavras’s Amen). Did Tariq Aziz confess to the pope?

 

 

 

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