Yesterday, I was discussing the war with a pacifist friend of mine and she said something striking: “It’s weird, I find myself strangely attracted to Bush’s idealism.”
Oddly enough, so do I. Now that we’re stuck with war, I find myself more and more drawn to the neoconservatives’ vision of bringing democracy to Baghdad.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m still undecided about whether invading was a good idea. As John Gaddis said in Monday’s Yale Daily News, “This is the biggest military gamble since D-Day.” On the one hand, Iraq could be transformed into a wobbly yet perseverent democracy by the end of the decade. Or it could combust into ethnic strife and civil war. Both scenarios are definite possibilities. While I don’t mean to belittle concerns about weapons of mass destruction, the war’s cost or other issues, the overriding question for me is whether our invasion will ultimately help or hurt the Iraqi people.
In terms of what scenario will take shape — democracy, civil war or another cruel dictatorship — much depends on how Bush goes about rebuilding Iraq. And that depends on whether he listens to the “pragmatists” at the State Department or the neocons in the Pentagon.
The State Department’s primary objective is stability. They support putting together an Iraqi “national unity government” or “council of pro-democracy officials” to oversee Iraq while it rebuilds. In their plan, the current Iraqi military would be kept intact and used to support the appointed government.
In contrast, the Pentagon, or at least its more idealistic elements, has pushed for a “federalist” government. It supports a very brief American military occupation, followed by elections, then followed by the transfer of power directly to elected Iraqis.
As Lawrence Kaplan writes, the best solution is probably “somewhere in between these positions.” At first glance, one would side with the State Department, if only because Colin Powell seems more trustworthy than Donald Rumsfeld. After all, the State Department is right in its main objective: stability ought to be our most important goal.
But the pragmatists’ approach features a major flaw. Any handpicked “national unity government” cannot be stable because regardless of how well-intentioned the appointees are, they will still be seen as handpicked by Americans. Considering the multitude of Iraqi groups vying for power — each ethnicity is itself wrought with rival factions — someone is bound to find fault with America’s “puppets.” Before long, that fault will translate to ethnic or factional conflict. The State Department’s plan for stability will fail to achieve precisely the objective it prizes most.
To pacify as many factions as possible, the Iraqi government must be chosen through free elections where all Iraqi groups are allowed to participate. And since the conditions for maintaining democracy cannot be established overnight, America must commit itself to a long and costly reconstruction. Here’s where the Pentagon is mistaken: a quick American military withdrawal may relegate the country to chaos. Before democracy can be fostered, Iraq needs not only food, running water and electricity, but the rule of law, an independent media, and a retrained Iraqi army purged of its pro-Saddam elements.
Most of this work must be done by the Iraqis themselves. But Americans should provide two things: money and security. America must commit billions of dollars to reconstruction efforts, until Iraq’s oil industry is back at full capacity and its economy is up and running again.
It must solicit the nation-building expertise of the United Nations and NGOs. And America must commit large numbers of troops to maintain security in Iraq for at least several years. While a troop presence may undermine Iraq’s autonomy and cast Americans as occupiers, this problem could be tolerable as long as Iraq’s decision-makers are elected and wield ultimate authority.
Will Bush devote the funds necessary to genuinely rebuild Iraq? It’s hard to tell. On the upside, he has declared his commitment to long-term reconstruction. On the downside, he issued similar rhetoric during the war in Afghanistan, only to abandon many of his promises. In his budget for next year, he originally slashed aid to Afghanistan to zero. This is why I’m unwilling to grant my support to the current war. An Iraq torn apart by civil conflict won’t be better off than one held in the tight clutch of Saddam Hussein.
That said, the decision to attack has been made. And liberal opponents, jaded by their inability to reverse Bush’s course of the war, have understandably fallen into disarray. But at this point, protesting the war will help us only insofar as it will indirectly pressure Bush to limit casualties, rebuild Iraq, and so on. For better or worse, America will oust Saddam, then confront the task of postwar reconstruction. I am skeptical that Bush will follow through on his original plans. But as the war proceeds, we’re going to have to shift our sentiments — from questioning the feasibility of Bush’s idealistic plan to staunchly supporting it.
Sahm Adrangi is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. His column appears regularly on alternate Wednesdays.