Monday, January 31, 2005

Iraq: What Would Success Look Like?

I just posted a comment over on A Tangled Web on the subject of the Iraqi elections. My general attitude, I think, is summarised by Michael Ignatieff, linked through Left2Right (unfortunate URL, by the way!). But we are left with the important question of what precisely would constitute success for the coalition. Instead of abusing ATW's bandwidth, I thought I might take the opportunity to expand here.

Writing of the elections, David Vance suggest that
...what we saw on Sunday was the wonderful sight of democracy slowly emerging from the dark shadows of decades of Saddamite tyranny. The pathetic spectacle of the Jihadists detonating themselves to hell and back around Baghdad shows how evil and useless they are. I suspect that it will indeed take some people on the left and right of the political spectrum some years for some to realise just what a wonderful gift the Coalition forces, and the vision of George W, have offered to the people of Iraq.

I'm not so sure about David's characterisation of the insurgency as a mixture of local Ba'athists and foreign jihadis (if only life were so simple), but that's not the subject of this post. I'm more interested in his argument that those people who will not "realise just what a wonderful gift the Coalition forces, and the vision of George W, have offered to the people of Iraq" for "some years" are somehow proven to be mistaken by the fact of the election.

Now, I'm pretty suspicious of visions, but putting the rhetoric aside, I think David is wrong in thinking that the election, which I'm glad to see take place, is proof of very much. Functioning states entail more than elections. But what do they entail? It strikes me that there is a very important issue in this: are there tests that everyone, whether pro- or anti- the coalition's actions, could accept, not to prove that the war was right or wrong (which would take other moral and political questions), but to prove, over some specific period of time, whether Iraq is a functioning democratic state or not?

So, here are my suggestions. I'd love to hear yours.

1. A Functioning Democracy: A series of generally uncorrupt governments in power, with smooth transitions between blocs, that hold to some concept of rule of law. That is, that they attach themselves to the equality of all Iraqi citizens before the law, regardless of ethnicity, religious affiliation or gender. This is a bit of a difficult one, given that I'm not convinced that many established democracies actually hold to this rule or, certainly in the UK, that politicians understand precisely what rule of law means, but nevertheless a government that introduces partisan laws, that favours its constituency over others or that sets about designing the state around the interests or predelictions of those in the seat of power doesn't seem like a particularly successful success story.

From what I've heard, this needn't entail an abandonment of sharia law, although it would require some limiting of the remit of sharia courts (which, from what I've heard, is the situation in Pakistan (admittedly not a significant model for democratisation!).

2. Economic Independence: A visible and significant degree of independence from American and other coalition interests in policy-making: that the US embassy is actually an embassy and does not become the de facto defence, foreign or economic ministry of Iraq. To use a trivial example, buying Boeing when Airbus gives a better offer would be pretty damning of an Iraqi government. More significantly, an Iraqi state that pursues an economic policy, from oil contracts to fiscal policy, that seems detrimental to the short-term and long-term interests of the people would be significant.

In general, though, an analysis of this sort of thing would be rather difficult: how can one prove that co-incidence of policy is actually co-ordination of policy? I'm sure it's possible, but, if we agreed that this was a good test, we'd have to agree on how one might go abot testing it.

3. Military Sovereignty: That, if Iraq became peaceful, the relationship with coalition forces would change over time. I wonder whether the test would be a complete withdrawal of coalition forces, but this would be a bit of an odd demand in and of itself. After all, the presence of US troops in Germany doesn't generally suggest that Germany is under the US thumb (well, generally anyway!). Perhaps, though, the test would be the manner in which coalition troops would be present: a successful Iraq could hardly have them either venturing out of barracks in an official capacity or engaging in offensive operations that would be detrimental to Iraqi interests from within the state.

Are there any more? I've tried to invent some at least hypothetically testable criteria, but they may not get to grips with your vision of what a functioning, democratic state looks like. Are my standards too high? Too low? If you're sufficiently bothered, let me know!

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