Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, September 02, 2007

We were better off with Saddam

The sad lesson of Bush's disaster in Iraq is that sometimes the solution is worse than the problem. Before Bush's war, the threat Iraq posed to the U.S. was contained and minimal. Al-Qaeda had no quarter in Iraq. Saddam Hussein served to check Iranian ambition. The number of people harmed by Hussein's brutal dictatorship was comparatively small and the situation was stable. The vast majority of Iraqis enjoyed safety and employment. And Hussein was an old man anyhow: with his death there would have been a chance for a new era in Iraq.

Now Al-Qaeda has become entrenched in Iraq, and there is no check on Iranian aggression. Thirty thousand Americans have been wounded or killed; hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been wounded or killed. Civil order has given way to civil war. Torture is more widespread than under Hussein. Thanks to our initial "shock and awe" tactics, many Iraqis remain without adequate water or electricity. The ensuing health and refugee crisis may have claimed hundreds of thousands more lives even than the violence. Unemployment is rampant. The Green Zone government is stuck in an impasse, unable to govern itself, let alone the nation. People can't even leave their houses anymore for fear.

Bush has broken the Iraqi state, emboldened Iran, and given safe-haven to our enemies. And perhaps the greatest irony of all is that the end result of Bush's war may very well be the emergence of yet another brutal dictator in Iraq, just like Saddam Hussein. The hope of freedom and prosperity for the Iraqi people will have been lost for another generation.


USWest said...

Goes to show that democracy is not always a good idea. It isn't for everyone. In some parts of the world, you need a dictator to hold the place together. Iraq is one of those places. This is why we tolerate some dictators and not others. This is why we supported Saddam to begin with- to hold back Iran, and why we didn't take him out in 1991 as we all heard Dick Cheney tells us back in 1994. Although, had we taken him out in 1991, we would have had an easier success. 10 years of sanctions didn't help.

Under Saddam the tribal/sectarian loyalties were sometimes suppressed and other times manipulated.

I tend to agree with those who say that so long as US troops are in Iraq as a scapegoat, the Iraqi government, such as it is, has little incentive to get its act together. I have said since day 1 that our troops are in an incredibly complex situation- it's cultural; it's religious; it's political. I've glimpsed this complex dynamic at work in my daily interactions with colleagues from the region. And trust me when I tell you that the very best qualities of our troops are being taken advantage of by the locals. We go into these places like Pollyanna, thinking very efficiently, with a clear goal in mind, with dedication, with "good intentions". But the Iraqis don't think like that. They find that sort of thinking sweet, but naive. They have a much more cynical and jaded view of loyalty and mission. They think in terms of "What is best for me today." Always remember the Arab saying, "My brother and me against my cousin. My cousin and me against my neighbor."

Dead Parrot said...

More before and after - In the first quarter of 2007 Iraqi crude oil production averaged 1.95 million barrels per day according to the US Special Inspector General. Nor has Iraq brought any new oil fields on-line since 2003. Pre-war, I think production was around 2.2 - 2.3 million barrels per day (and this was under UN sanctions). The lower production and uncertainty in the market has definitely increased the volatility in the price of oil. It is debatable if the price would be lower since other OPEC countries (mainly Saudi Arabia) have increased production to make up for Iraq's shortfall.

It is also debatable if Israel is safer without Saddam than with him. Iraq had threatened Israel under Saddam. They fired Scud missles at Israel during the Gulf War. They had started a nuclear enrichment program that was viewed as a precursor to weapons that could be used against Israel. Iraq also allegedly funded Hamas.

Iraq is no longer a direct threat to Israel. But other countries (most notably Iran and Syria) have filled the void. Israel is certainly less safe now than in 2003.

And of course while we have been preoccupied with Iraq, Osama Bin Laden is still at large and the Taliban is reasserting itself in Afghanistan. I also hear that Islamic terrorist organizations are reorganizing in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. We seem to be stretched too thin to respond.

Raised By Republicans said...

Well, Demcoracy is always a good idea. The problem is that it isn't a policy choice. You can't just get up at a podium and declare democracy simply because you have the military means to prevent a coup d'etat by the Iraqi military (militaries).

The problem in Iraq is that their economy is 100% dependent on the distribution of oil money. Regardless of how much money there is, distributing it is THE ONLY way to ensure a living for the people of that country. Until that changes, there will be little incentive for any Iraqi faction leader to compromise with any others. Every important decision is all or nothing - zero sum.

The one thing that is NOT a problem is "culture" (what ever the heck that is). Arabs and Muslims do not have a cultural impediment to democracy. No one does.

The problem is in Iraq is far more fundamental than culture. It is economic. But being our first truely post-modern President, Bush could never understand that.

USWest said...

Well I think that the correctness of democracy depends on your goal. If your goal is global security, then democracy isn't always a good idea. If your goal is human rights protections and civil rights, then yes, Democracy is right. But sending over a military isn't the way to get democracy, which reiterates RBR's point.

I don't think I said or implied that there was any culture impediment to democracy in Iraq. I said that you can't implement democracy by overthrowing a dictator and snapping your fingers and holding elections, which is in agreement with RBR's point. In fact, most Arab political scientists whom I have read also point out that Islam has very democratic aspects and that Islam is not an impediment to democracy either.

However, democracy by its very essence, must grow from people. Democracy is a choice that the people must make. Just holding elections does not a democracy make as we all know. There is a whole value system that must go with it. And there are multiple forms for democracy. The Iraqis don't have the democratic mentality because they haven't really had a chance to develop it. The Iraqis didn't choose democracy, it was thrust upon them, which by my standards isn't democracy but a coup, and a damned unsuccessful one.

My second point was that U.S. military has a problem because our fundamental ignorance of the culture (i.e. the social tendencies,norms, and expectations of social interactions of the people) put us as a huge disadvantage. There are informal communications networks, built-in hierarchies that are based on tribal allegiances, and tribal rules that govern people's lives. Notions of loyalty, honesty, etc. take a very different spin in the Arab world. All you have to do is get burned a few times and you get wise. I think the NCOs and grunts on the ground have come to understand this because they have to deal with it and they have gotten burned. But the war planners sitting in Washington don't or they do and they don't care. And that is very unfortunate. You have to be like a virus. You have to get into the system and undermine it by turning it against itself. You don't do do that by bombing and playing conventional war against it.

And I keep hearing about new amazing weapons being developed by DARPA- robots that you can toss into a house and have then aim and shoot people,unmanned little airplanes, etc. All of this is more hardware meant to spare U.S. soldiers' lives and make war less costly. Yet none of that puts us in a position to "win" anything.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Although USWest says she did not mean to imply that Iraq had a "cultural impediment" to democracy, she nevertheless goes on to say that the Iraqis lack a "democratic mentality." Then she goes on to observe that Iraqis have tribal allegiances and rules that govern them, and that notions of loyalty and honesty are different over there.

But aren't those things the pieces we may put together and describe as a cultural impediment to a democracy? Or is there some distinction between a Western and non-Western democracy that I am missing? (And what exactly would a "non-Western" democracy look like, anyhow? I am not sure I've ever got a straight answer to that.)

I do not mean to pick on USWest. She has time and again pointed out cultural differences we should be wary of. I just can't help but wonder if we may be pussyfooting around the issue of culture because we don't want to be accused of saying one culture is better than another.

If I understand RbR correctly, he believes the cultural issue is at best moot because the problem in Iraq is one of economics, which he says is more "fundamental" than culture. (He even suggests he does not know what a "culture" is?) RbR's response astonishes me most. Not that I doubt his economic analysis--I am sure it is dead on--but I had always thought that cultural issues were at least as important as economic ones. Reading RbR's response, I am starting to wonder whether it really is all about money, and all this cultural stuff is just window-dressing. Or is that going too far as well? Ah, the lost cry of a man stumbling into the world of social science. Guidance, please!

(ps. I am not being sarcastic. I am genuinely curious.)

Raised By Republicans said...

Dr. S. When I say "culture" I'm being flip and lazy. What I'm trying to express is the idea that culture is so amorphously defined that you get different definitions from different people in different contexts. If culture is what kinds of paintings we like and what kinds of food we eat or whether we pray stadning up, kneeling, prostrated or not at all, then I don't see how such preferences can cause political phenomena. At best such things provide the vocabulary of the debates but not the substance.

On the other hand if culture is things like how we organize ourselves politically (tribes, clans, or nation states or whatever) then I don't see how the cultural independent variables are different from the political dependent variables.

When I say that economics is more fundamental than culture I'm trying to allude to the long positted argument in political economy that economic conditions cause changes in culture and constrain their impacts (this goes back to Marx and even further). The opposite argument had its most famous advocate in Max Weber who argued (among other things) that Catholic countries had a disadvantage regarding industrialization and democracitzatoin because of the Catholic faith itself. His arguement was a thinly veiled expression of Northern European prejudices about Southern European (they're lazy, they're disorganized etc). Weber has been largely discredited in this argument by the rise of industrialized democracies in all of Catholic Europe and large part of Catholic Latin America.

Finally, we all know that culture (regardless of the definition we use) changes. If it changes then there is something more fundamental than culture that causes that change. If we can identify it (and I think economics is a good bet!), we should concentrate on that rather than on the superficial differences in life style that make up what people usually think of when they think of culture.

The Law Talking Guy said...

A cultural impediment to democracy? I am worried that we are getting hung up on terms.

Nobody with any experience abroad - or even with different immigrant groups at home - can doubt that different ethnic groups socialize in different ways and have different common values. Many ethnic stereotypes are really crude caricatures of different cultural norms. I was in Washington during the Brazil-Sweden soccer match in the 1994 World cup. The Swedes quietly tromped through my neighborhood to RFK stadium and, at bars, were oddly quiet even when the team did well. The Brazilians were noisy and flamboyant. None of this should be too controversial, although in our politically correct world some think it is wrong to suggest that these obvious cultural traits exist.

Some cultural traits must affect the sort of personalities that government leaders possess.
For example, Mussolini, with his typically Mediterranean boastfulness and chest-thumping, could not have been elected in Canada. Sometimes it is just about style. Many American right-wing politicians rail against Arab politicians waving machine guns in the air; but the same politicians make sure they are photographed in hunting gear with rifles at home. French presidents can (publicly) take mistresses; Americans can't.

I think it obvious that no cultural trait of this kind precludes the adoption of universal suffrage and a one-person one-vote rule.

However, other cultural traits may be more significant. Arab (and Swiss) attitudes toward women retard the establishment universal suffrage. Some cultures exalt clan loyalties above national loyalties. For example, universal suffrage in the USA was not extended south of the Mason-Dixon line until the 1960s because of strong cultural prejudices. Some cultures tolerate corruption more than others. Corruption hinders the development of an independent judiciary.

I suggest that republican government as we (now) practice it in the USA will be difficult to transplant to areas where there are certain kinds of very different cultural norms. Fortunately, "republican government as we (now) practice it in the USA" is not synonymous with Democracy. That's a primary issue we need to remember.

Raised By Republicans said...

The qeustion isn't are there cultural differences...of course there are. Swede's may be quieter as a group than Brazilians - so big deal. The question is do these superficial differneces have any value from the point of view of predicting whether a country will successfully maintain a democracy or not - or even what kind of democratic institutions the respecitve countries will maintain.

Brazil and Sweden are both democracies. Sure, Italy produced Mousolini with his boistrous bombast but Germany produced Hitler. And Poland had Pilsudski and France had Petain.

I think LTG is just plain wrong (and bordering dangerously on racism) to assume that some cultures can't allow the vote for women. Italy, Spain, Portugal and Brazil - even Turkey! - all have universal sufferage regardless of gender.

Does how people cheer at a sporting event really cause or constrain their political behavior or institutions?

I think anyone with any experience abroad or with other political systems would say "NO." It is plainly obvious to me.

Cultural explanations are hard to let go of however. They are easy to point to. Oh, that intractable problem in (country name here) is because of that country's culture. They don't require much analysis - only cheap appeals to stereotypes or isolated annecdotes (I have a friend from Mysogistan and he said women will never get equal rigths there because it is against his culture).

Worse, such explanations let us off the hook. They encourage the false belief that nothing can be done.

Finally, they don't actually predict anything. There are numerous examples of countries with similar cultures (Sweden and Denmark for example) but different political institutions and policies. There are also examples of countries very dissimilar cultures (using the superficial definition posited by LTG) with strikingly similar political institutions and behaviors (Italy and the US or Greece and Japan for example).

This is a point worth laboring. First, because Dr. S asked us to. Second because I am convinced that cultural explanations are not just wrong headed, they are dangerous and if this blog is intended to inform people, we should at least not try to convince them of false explanations that can result is serious misunderstandings of important world events and phenomena.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Thank you for "laboring" the point, RbR and LTG! The dialogue you are having is exactly what I hoped for. You have a very interested audience here.

Without realizing it, I am starting think I may have fallen victim to the alluring "clash of civilizations" notion. Yet at the same time, I still don't know what a non-Western democracy would look like... and if religious fundamentalism is the enemy of democracy--as I think most of us on this blog have said at some point or other--isn't that the same thing as pointing out a "cultural impediment"? It is not unique to Islam, but Islam sure has a lot of fanatics these days.

(btw, I like the name "Mysogistan.")

Dr. Strangelove said...

One more note. It is interesting that there has been a fair amount of talk about women's suffrage in this discussion. Would we, even fifty years ago, have believed that women's rights were fundamental to democracy?

Raised By Republicans said...

There are several non-western democracies. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan all currently have functioning, stable democracies. Japan's has been around for a long time.

There are several East Asian countries with democracies that are less established or at least seem more vulnerable but are nonetheless non-western Democracies: here the Philipines comes to mind.

India is of course the billion pound gorilla in the room as far as non-western Democracies goes.

Turkey is debatable. Half of the Turks think they're a western democracy and half of them think they're a non-western one.

Democracies exist on every continent and represent people believing in every major faith - including Islam. There are democracies of people who samba at football matches and people who sit stoicly in the dark all winter. There are democracies of rich countries (like the US, the EU or Japan) and democracies in poor ones (like India or Costa Rica).

About the only kind of country that doesn't seem to be prone to democracy are those that depend entirely on exporting oil...Norway is the lone exception but they were a stable democracy before they found the oil so maybe that's the key to that case.

USWest said...

While I was trying to compose a thoughtful message to the discussion, you have all been typing away. Here is my 2 cents.

Dr. S. There are entire libraries of books written to address the very questions you raise. I don't even know where to begin. I could spend an afternoon on the democratic principles held within Islam- such as Shura (consultation), the concepts of Adl and ihsan (the balance of Justice and the unity of right belief and right action), the idea that only God can limit freedom and that bondage or despotism are unacceptable, Koranic teachings that place great importance on the right to seek knowledge and the need of knowledge to build a just community, Ijtihad (interpretation of law by scholars), etc. There are several books on Islamic law and human rights and long discussions about universalism and univeralists.

So how does all of this apply to my view of Iraq and democracy?
We characterize democracy as elections whereby the governed give their consent to a leader, where human rights are recognized, majority rule with protection for minorities, everyone has equal access to the law and they are treated fairly by the law, there is due process (i.e. the right to confront an accuser and to be innocent until proven guilty), protection for various freedoms that we associate with our 1st amendment. All of this comes from the Greek and Roman (pre-Creaser) concepts of Democracy. All of this is meant to define the relationship between the individual and the government. It is a very individualistic view of democracy.

In some Arab countries, the experiences and traditions are different even if the principles are the same. Instead of organized elections, there may be a council meeting. In Islamic theocracies this can be done through a meeting of elders and representatives. An example is Afghanistan where there is a Loyal Jirga. These can be called at any time and there is no fixed time period. Issues are hashed out and a consensus must be reached. There are no bills, no legislation, no riders, amendments, vetos, etc. There is a proposal and discussion. There less of an individualist view of democracy and more of a communal approach.

So RBR is right that culture is not an impediment to Democracy. No one here suggested this. I want to make that clear.

One question I ask is why didn't Iraqis rise up against Saddam if he was so bad? That would be a democratic action. For democratic action, for a vibrant civil society to exist, there has to be national unity and room for civil society to operate. There is no national unity in Iraq and there never has been. So you can't overthrow a leader or vote him out. Under Islam and even in tribal custom an unjust ruler can be removed. It was pointed out to me that besides having been intimidated into submission, there is a general tendency in tribal based culture to support whoever the leader is because the community acknowledges him as the leader. Who are you to question? Action against a leader can only take place through a "chain of command" type structure whereby community leaders agree to remove a leader, or through a violent confrontation. That is how the community, or Umma functions. There isn't a concept of 1 man, 1 vote. When there are elections held, communities vote in blocs. This is how anarchy is averted. I cannot think of a single instance in the Arab world where a popular uprising resulted in a government overthrow. That doesn't mean there hasn't been one, I just can't think of one. It is always done through assassination or coup. Insurgency is as close as you get to a popular uprising and those are often suppressed by the ruling power be that an occupation force or a dictator.

Since the Brits and the French cobbled together what is modern day Iraq in 1920, the nation has never been at ease. Like most imperial practices, borders were drawn with no thought to the ethnic or linguistic make up of the people living in them. There has always been friction between Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds.

Iraqis have never had a free and fair election. They have had monarchies with designated successors, assignations, coups, military interventions and occupations from the Brits and the Americans. From 1958-1979 when Saddam finally took over, Iraq had three coups, at least one assassination, and six "Presidents", none of them elected in a free and fair election.

There had never been a competitive electoral race, very little notion of liberty or freedom, no concept of self-sufficiency since everything is determined by the state or community. People went through the cinema of voting, but it never meant anything. How could it? Since their government didn't really represent them, they went to their Sheikh or their mosque. What is a Sheikh? A tribal leader. So the democratic elements of the tribe were in place, but that never crossed over into the larger state. Sunnis controlled it all. The monarchies were Sunni as were the presidencies. So now Bush wants to make little Americans out the Iraqis while getting some oil booty which is just the dumbest thing ever.

That was my point. There is nothing in Islam that and nothing in the culture itself that precludes democracy from taking root. However, the Iraqi people will never have American-style democracy. They haven’t experienced of any form of democracy popular or republican, their borders aren’t even settled, and there is no sense of national unity anymore, only competion. Under Saddam, they were unified by their mutual suffering. Now what is there to unify them?

And RBR, understanding someone's culture is a hell of a lot deeper than just how they yell at a soccer match or why they don't eat pork. It is understanding the underlying philosophy of how a society thinks and organizes itself, how its history and culture have blended, why it makes certain choices, its about being in someone else's shoes. Nothing comes from a vacuum, everything is linked to everything else and there is a coherency in it all. Your starting point for understanding may be different, but that doesn't make it better o r more correct.

Raised By Republicans said...

Of course there are cultural differences. But if we take US West's definition of culture (which seems to include things like political organizations etc) then how can we seperate the cause from the effect for analysis? If all "culture" is is a re-labeling of concepts from political economy then it has no added value.

If we think (as LTG seemed to be suggesting) that the more superficial differences between people like Brazilians and Swedes matter, then there is a mountain of evidence to the countrary.

Finally, there are right and wrong answers to these questions. It is not the case that "well, I can have my opinion and it's just as valid as yours." As far as opinions go it may be but if we are intersted in actually determining what the heck is going on in a country like Iraq there are right and wrong answers. Culturally based answers are wrong.

Dr. Strangelove said...

"There are entire libraries of books written to address the very questions you raise." I know. It's daunting. That's why I was jumping at the opportunity to get the 'cliffs notes' version from you all :-) It has been informative.

If I am reading you correctly, you all agree that any difficulties Iraqis may have building a democratic society are political or economic, in the sense that they arises from their current and historical experiences with political and economic structures, and none of you believe that Islam or Arab culture disfavors the development of political and economic structures favorable to democracy. I do not hear agreement on whether or not the rise of pernicious religious fundamentalism is an impediment to democracy.

Raised By Republicans said...

I think you sum up the area of agreement well, Dr. S. I would go a little further and say that whether the Koran has democratic elements or not is really not relevant and probably a matter of intense debate among Muslim scholars of the moderate and fundamentalists schools.

Which brings me to the next question: Is rise of pernicious religious fundamentalism is an impediment to democracy?

In an immediate sense, yes, of course it is. But I would say that the rise of these kinds of groups is a symptom of a broader problem of economic, social and political exclusion that is independent of religion.

I think LTG would agree that fundamentalism is much more of a political expediency than a spiritual movement.

As I've said before religion and other cultural traits can provide us with the vocabulary for political debate but they are not themselves the substantive source of the conflict.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I suppose I am less sanguine than RbR when it comes to religious fundamentalism. There are aspects of the movement that are just political. However, I think the idea of "memes" has merit and I think of fundamentalism as a sort of nasty social tumor that may very well begin as symptom of some other problem (e.g. politic, economics), but then becomes self-sustaining and cannot be excised by addressing the problems that gave rise to it.

I believe religion can be a substantive source of conflict. I also believe it can be a substantive source of resolution and peace, however. This is why the religious activism of certain Citizens matters.

USWest said...

In the case of fundamentalism, I agree with RBR. Had these people had another place other than the mosque to express their discontent, or if they had had jobs and something else to do, then religious fundamentalism would not have arisen as it has.

In tyrannical dictatorships in the Middle east, the only safe place for dissent is the mosque and the only place to go for an unemployed male is the Mosque.

Communism, remember, was rooted in the discontent of the proletariat who met up on cafes and private homes.

You will always have fanatics regardless of the economic and political conditions. But if civil society isn't given a proper outlet for dissent, it will turn to less desirable methods- such as suicide bombing. And it will seek to justify its actions using some legitimate source, in this case the Koran. Islam is what is available.

all of that could be reduced if we could find a way to get the economics on track. In Iraq, we would make huge progress if we could at least keep the lights on. Think of the Marshall Plan vs. the Treaty of Paris.

USWest said...

Just note note on fundamentalism: in the prosperous U.S., Christian Fundamentalism has a foothold. And our fundamentalists can be terrorists as well, bombing abortion clinics, for instance. They have a strong civil society that would allow them to protest in less violent means, and they choose bombing or harassing women.

I always associated that type of fundamentalism with poverty and a lack of education. But that doesn't seem to be a correct association, especially in the US. Evangelicals come in all stripes.

We still have a democracy, but look how it was stilted under a fundamentalist regime headed by a spoiled, rich boy, addict, not an impoverish, unemployed man.

So was Evangelism hijacked for political purposes (take advantage of their inherent conservatism and sign then up for the Republican Party) or was it political from the start? I tend toward the former.

Raised By Republicans said...

I'm not 100% sure of this but my impression is that the Christian fundamentalists here in the US are not well represented among the most highly educated or among the lowest educated. Rather they tend to be people with some college or maybe a BA or BS from a fairly average local college - but usually not a college with much prestige.

There has been a lot of research on them but I'm not that familiar with it. If I had to make a semi-educated guess about them I'd guess that they are people who are from demographics that used to be priviledged but are losing that status. People like small town elites, high skill blue colar folks, and rural people.

You see them in "exurbs" a lot. I think that observation is because people who grew up in rural areas or small towns may feel forced to move to cities to find work but they still avoid (or can't afford) living in the city itself or first ring of suburbs.

I guess I'm thinking that the theme of social and economic exclusion holds in the US case. They at least percieve that their influence is in decline and the world they were used to is going away. So they turn to God and use that vocabulary to express the intensity of their insecurity and resentment.

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