Paul Bremer has left the country… Two days earlier than was expected, he handed the administration over to the Iraqi government under Iyad Allawi. More than 100,000 foreign troops will remain as well as the funds voted for by the American Congress to finance the work of reconstruction.
John Keegan offers a ‘meta-contextual perspective’ on what is “rotten in the state of Iraq” (and in Washington) with regard to the aftermath of probably the most successful war ever fought between a democracy and a dictatorship. The entourage of highly opinionated advisers, that have become known as “neo-conservatives” may be at the root of the problem with the ill-conceived nation-building in Iraq:
A more accurate way of describing them would be as “post-Marxists”, in that, like many 20th-century intellectuals, their thinking was formed in reaction to the Soviet system, whether originally for or against. In the world in which they matured, it was impossible not to perceive politics as the supreme and dominant human activity. Their perception had distorting after-effects.
The new conservatives who had rejected Left-wing solutions to the world’s problems were nevertheless left with the conviction that any solution would be political. Confronted by the residue of tyranny, as in post-Soviet Eastern Europe, they expected democracy to take its place. Inside any people’s democracy, they might have said, there is a real democracy struggling to get out. In the case of eastern Europe, they were genuinely right.
Although the journey to freedom and democracy in the former communist bloc has not been straightforward, the assumption that those who opposed the communist tyranny saw democracy as the natural alternative, was certainly correct.
The neo-conservatives’ mistake was to suppose that, wherever tyranny ruled, democracy was its natural alternative. So, when planning for the government of post-war Iraq, the lead agency, the Pentagon, dominated by neo-conservatives, jumps to the conclusion that, as soon as Saddam’s tyranny was destroyed, Iraqi democrats would emerge to assume governmental responsibility from the liberating coalition and a pro-Western regime would evolve seamlessly from the flawed past.
To think in such a way was to reveal a dangerously post-Marxist cast of mind. Marxists can think only in political terms. They accept, even if they despise, liberal and conservative opposition. What they cannot accept is that their opponents may be motivated by beliefs which are not political in any way at all.
John Keegan concludes that the real opposition force is religion. There are others opposing the American presence, such as the survivors of the Ba’ath Party, a strictly secular organisation, however, religion is the only force that can provide an ‘alternative’, however flawed, to the current state of affairs. He admonished the Americans for dissolving the Iraqi army or police or civil administration, regardless of the number of Ba’ath Party members they contained.
Perhaps the current security problems in Iraq prove him right. I do not know whether using ex-Ba’athists in the post-Saddam Iraq would have prevented the deterioration of security in Iraq we have witnessed. I do, however, have a problem with moral implications of not purging the society of those who propped an oppressive regime. One man cannot sustain a totalitarian regime alone, it is the thousands of ‘little’ authoritarians that help to maintain the regime’s grip on its victims and destroy its opponents. I believe it was wrong (morally and politically) for the countries of Central and Eastern Europe not conduct a thorough ‘de-communisation’ of their political systems and societies. Similarly, I believe de-Ba’athification is desirable for the Iraqi society to find its footing.
However, I also find it hard to disagree with Keegan’s parting shot:
Looking back, better a Ba’athist Iraq than an Islamic one. Let us hope that it is not too late.