As the international community debates the future of Iraq, Yale professors agreed that the prospect of a swift governmental change is dim at a teach-in Thursday evening.
History professor Ivo Banac and political science professors Nicholas Sambanis and James Scott spoke to an intimate crowd of 30 people at the teach-in titled “Nation-Building: Premises and Prospects.” The panel was moderated by political science professor Cynthia Farrar, who has organized Yale’s “War in Iraq” teach-in series with history professor John Gaddis.
Banac said that religious differences among the Iraqi people will prevent the quick establishment of a democratic government in Iraq.
“It is possible to have viable states that are multi-national,” Banac said. “I think that states bear a history of close communal relations. But I’m not certain that the same principles can be maintained due to the lack of historical continuity that I see at the moment.”
Scott agreed, but said he did not believe Iraqis want a theocratic regime.
“Real stabilization in the Middle East depends on some solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue,” he said.
Scott said placing a democratic structure in Iraq could also be problematic because it would be placed atop a historically undemocratic social structure.
Questioning whether the United States genuinely wants a democratic government in Iraq, Scott said a government controlled by special interests would be more stable for America because “we want oil flowing.” He pointed to the United States-led post-World War II nation-building of Italy and Japan as examples of successful military administrations that created public institutions while allied with conservative elites rather than left-wing parties.
“No one builds a nation for anyone else,” Scott said. “Most nations have been created against an imperial occupier. [But] it is true that strong states have created nations.”
Sambanis said a civil war or uprising in Iraq could deter the rebuilding process in Iraq.
“We know from theory and empirical analysis in political science that a country like Iraq is extremely likely to experience a civil war in the next three to five years,” Sambanis said. “Countries that have just had a war are three times more likely than average to have another war within one year of the termination of the previous war.”
Sambanis criticized the rebuilding methods of the Bush administration. He said emotions run high in countries that have been torn apart by war, which could be a risk factor in rebuilding Iraq.
“There is something to be said to look back at the history of multiculturalism, but the experience of war changes that,” Sambanis said. “It’s unclear how you can piece together countries that have been so scared by war.”
Banac said there are many problems that lie on the road ahead for coalition forces in rebuilding Iraq.
“I don’t think it’s going to be as simple as many people imagined,” Banac said. “In fact, the war was the simplest part. But what happens after is an entirely different and much larger problem.”