Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Matthew Yglesias writes a somewhat glib bit on the Saddam statues getting knocked down:

Personally, I'm a statue freak so I think people should keep as many statues as possible in their cities. Obviously I understand the impulse to knock down Saddam's statues and I won't blame people if they do it, but I hope that a few are at least left standing as exemplars of what was, after all, a significant period in Iraqi history. They should also consider putting up new statues of other people so that the country doesn't undergo sudden statue depletion. Fortunately, Mesopotamian history is filled with commemorable figures going all the way back to the days of Gilgamesh.
Oddly enough, Saddam may stick around. One of the phenomena that I remember hearing about in conversation a while ago was that statues of Soviet-era Russian leaders and politicians are either going back up in their places of honor or there is significant agitation to do so- up to and including KGB leaders, not the most desirous lot.

I don't see this as being about the policies and actions of the figures in question, of course. The thing is, Yglesias' idea that "it's a significant part of their history" may well be echoed by the people of Iraq themselves, especially if the rebuilding doesn't go as well as hoped (again, see Russia) and many Iraqis start thinking that they would be better off now if they were under Saddam. This would be a huge embarassment to the United States, of course, as (unlike in Russia) the United States was instrumental in the end of Saddam's regime and any nostalgia for said period is a pretty direct rebuke of the U.S., but that's why the rebuilding is so important.

Unfortunately, according to this piece, which implies that many within the government want to bail out fairly soon:

These officials are leaning toward a quick exit from a country that U.S.-led forces conquered in less than a month. The administration remains committed to repairing and rebuilding war-damaged infrastructure, in many cases to standards considerably higher than before the war started, a senior defense official said. Indeed, San Francisco-based Bechtel Group was just awarded an initial $34.6 million contract to rebuild airports, water and electricity systems, roads and railroads.

But the far larger task of ensuring that Iraq emerges as a representative democracy friendly to U.S. interests and operating with a free-market economy would be left to an Iraqi interim authority, which could control key aspects of Iraqi governance within months.
Oops. This could be disasterous. These officials are apparently willing to do the easy stuff (that is, not coincidentially, highly profitable to American companies doing the rebuilding) but not the hard stuff: actually building that democracy that they've been talking about. On a certain level I do sympathize- the longer the American presence, the louder the cries of "colonization", and the behavior of the U.S. to date hasn't exactly disproved that claim. (I wonder how many Iraqis are going to know the name "Halliburton" before this is over?) Still, it's manifestly obvious that the wealth of Iraq could pay for the reconstruction whether or not the U.S. army is there, and it is also obvious that Bush's rhetoric compels him to not just rebuild infrastructure, but play midwife to a middle eastern democracy as much as he is able.

If he cannot do that, and pulls out, then he only demonstrates that Afghanistan's current woes are part-and-parcel of Bush-style "regime change". Those that look back nostalgically at order and prosperity (such as existed in Iraq when it wasn't embroiled in warfare of one kind or another) will want to rebuild not just Saddam's statue, but Saddam's governing style. Interwar Germany all over again.

edit. Kevin Drum posited the eminently sensible idea of letting the U.N. get involved:

A few days ago I suggested that since there were big problems with both a prolonged American presence in Iraq and with a quick pullout, a strong role for the UN would be a good compromise. What I meant, of course, was that a true multinational presence is the best long run solution, and since the UN is the only serious multinational organization we have with experience in nation building and peacekeeping, the UN it is.
He quotes David Adesnik's anti-U.N. argument, but as Adesnik's (or at least that of his argument) conception of U.N. involvement appears to be limited entirely to the oil-for-food program, the IMF, and the World Bank, I think it can be safely dismissed. There's more to the U.N. than those, and I'd question whether he believes that the U.N. is ever successful.

(He also demonstrates a possible inability to understand the job that's necessary when describing a successful rebuilding occupation as "temporary"; as opposed to permanent, maybe, but that's a pretty long "temporary"- and what's with pulling out the "bipartisan consensus" canard that died in the 2002 election?)

No, the real problem is whether the U.N. even really wants the job. I'm sure that more than a few American policymakers who aren't wedded to the anti-U.N. neocon faction would love the U.N. to move in, pick up the job, and pick up the tab. That's the problem, though- since the U.N. didn't support the war, their legitimacy as a body that can confer legitimacy to military action would be even further eroded if they did move in, as they would be seen by all and sundry as an American handmaiden. So it looks like it'll be an American job, not a U.N. one. The U.N. may do it, but it'd create more problems than it solves.

Lot of that going around, come to think of it.

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