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After the War: peace in our time? « Previous | |Next »
February 24, 2003

The recent moral justification for war, advanced by those on behalf of the Coalition of the willing, is to liberate the Iraqi people from oppression by a tyranical regime. This justiifcation has been added onto Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction and posing a threat to world peace. It means that the talk of endgame and regime change implies a liberated Iraq and the flowering of liberal democracy in the Middle East.

Is scepticism warranted? Is this a rosy scenario of peace through war a siren song designed for domestic consumption in the US, the UK and Australia? Nobody wants another Vietnam yet that spectre casts a long shadow that is a key reference point that enables us to get a handle on a very complex state of affairs.

The rosy scenario has been recently defended by Ken Parish Gazing into a crystal ball. Ken writes:

"The most benign outcome... is that the US will prevail with relatively low Iraqi civilian casualties, will immediately proceed to pour in massive foreign aid and rebuild the country's infrastructure, and move purposefully towards the establishment of the rule of law and, over 5 years or so, a complete handover to an indigenous democratically elected government....I believe the prognosis for the spread of liberal democratic freedoms in the third world is very good under a triumphant US hegemon."
Ken qualifies this but leaves the scenario on the table. Some scepticism about this rosy scenario was expressed by Paul Krugman in his latest New Times column The Martial Plan. Krugman says:

"On Tuesday Ari Fleischer declared that Iraq could pay for its own reconstruction even though experts warn that it may be years before the country's oil fields are producing at potential. Off the record, some officials have even described Iraqi oil as the "spoils of war." So there you have it. This administration does martial plans, not Marshall Plans: billions for offense, not one cent for reconstruction."

And John Quiggin in his After the war post has expressed doubts about the democratisation bit. He says that "the implied position is one of indefinite occupation until the position of a pro-US government is secure, regardless of whether it has any democratic legitimacy." On this scenario, as suggested in an article in the Washington Post Full U.S. Control Planned for Iraq the US will govern Iraq as an American protectorate for some years, possibly in terms of a military governership. Its job would be to build a government that could be relied on to protect US imperial interests in the region.

Ken acknowledges this protectorate scenario and says that it means a 5 year interim administration period, rather than "negating earlier more general commitments to long-term democratisation by senior Administration officials like Powell and Rice." However, much scepticism is warranted here. for several reasons. A bit of crystal ball gazing identifies the following problems connected with the newly-formed US empire:

Keeping the peace would be a major problem given the ethnic divisions amongst the "Iraqi people". A possible scenario is insurrections from the Kurds in the north and Shi'ites in the south as they liberate themselves from the Sunni domination of the Hussein regime Sunni domination.

This internal liberation then feds into the concerns of Turkey in relation to the Kurds (no autonomy for the Kurdish people) and Iran gaining influence over the Shi'ite dominated south. Regional instability is the scenario here.

Ken's flowering of liberal democracy diagnosis means the imposition of an alien political culture with big qualifications on the democracy bit since a democratic constitution with a Shi'ite majority that come under the influence of Iran----an Axis of evil enemy the US that needs to be severely contained.

Going to war with Iraq means occupation and that means a lot of US troops stationed in Iraq. There will be an impact from a US presence as an occupying power in Iraq have on the domestic politics (Saudi Arabia and Egypt) other nation-states in the Middle East and on regional stability. What would the US imperative of cheap oil from Iraq do for the economies of OPEC?

All this is far cry from a rosy scenario. And the gloomy scenario has implications for Australia. If the US gets bogged in the Middle East then wil it intervene in southeast Asia to fight the war on terror?- Or would the hard headed muscular neo-cons running US global strategy expect Australia, as the deputy sheriff of the US, to respond to the crisis of a resurgent militant Islam in this region through a re-emptive strike?

Peace through war. It sounds good. But it looks more like a house of cards built on the foundations of fear and paranoia. It means that the interests of empire, as understood by the neocon hawkes in the Bush administration, dominate those of democracy.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:15 AM | | Comments (8)



I've updated the essay to deal specifically with the Shia-Iran point, although it was because John Quiggin raised it - it was before I saw your piece. However, I don't think your essay raises any additional issues. Nevertheless, on your approach, America would have left Europe enslaved to the Nazis because the post-war situation was unknowable and possibly dangerous, and might advantage the USSR. Well, of course, it did! But would you really say we should have left the Nazis in place? Or don't you think Saddam is as bad?


Re natonal building in Europe. That was 60 years ago in the context of the USSR as a superpower. It is very different today when the world of nation states is structured by a US hegemon or empire. Why cannot we take Afghanistan now as a reference point rather than 1945 post war Europe?

The bit about Saddam is a cheap shot. C'mon Ken. Where in my weblogs do I indicate that the current Iraqi regime is anything other than oppressive,is totalitarian, has a history of volence towards different ethnic groups(Kurds and Shi'ites) and a policy of extermination towards its opponents.

Who is saying that Saddam should be left in place? Not me. See previous post--good journalism & some realism.

I have argued for a defence of working thrrough the UN as the best hope for global security. This is what a majority of public opinion wants in Australia--checks and balances on the US throwing its weight around the world under the neocon hawks who want absolute freedom.

My argument is that empire concerns will dominate in the Middle East. On my scenario the fallout from the war means that things will be more more unpredictable than the rosy scenario suggests.

My argument is two fold. It says that the new Iraqi regime will be more liberal than democratic, since its primary job as a client state is to protect US global interests in the region against Islamic states---primarily to contain Iran.

Secondly such a liberal regime backed by US military muscle will fire up anti-Western anger in Indonesia and so affect Australia's strategic regional interests.

What I am introducing against the rosy liberal enlightement picture of evolutionary progress is the clash of civilizations scenario.

That alternative scenario is what should be criticised, rather than firing of cheap shots. The alternative scenario could well be wrong as it has been introduced as a worst case one.


I'm trying to move the debate on from talking about whether military action should or should not take place (as my essay states). What I'm interested in for present purposes is to try to analyse what the geopolitical scenarios might be after the war, not to continue the endless debate about whether war should occur or whether an ongoing inspection/containment regime is preferable. I know what you think about that, and you know what I think; there is nothing more to say.

In that context, I'm suggesting it isn't enough just to assert that the post-war situation wil be uncertain and there will be dangers. Of course there will. What we need to do is assess the nature and magnitude of the dangers, and what policies and strategies might be adopted to deal with them. Thus, I suggest that there are ways of dealing with the danger of a pro-Iran Shia party developing, just as there are ways of dealing with the Kurdish issue.

In fact, current experience suggests the Kurdish issue is somewhat exaggerated. The Iraqi Kurds have been an effectively completely autonomous region ever since the no-fly zone was imposed. They haven't shown a propensity to foment rebellion among the Turkish Kurds, and Turkey doesn't appear to have been destabilised as a result. No doubt that's why Turkey seems no longer concerned about the Kurds as such. It's just interested in squeezing the Americans for as much money as possible as the price of allowing them to use Turkish soil as a staging post for an assault on Iraq from the north.

I suggest your doomsday scenario of unmanageable post-war problems is very exaggerated. I also suggest that an analogous situation would be one somewhere between post-war Germany and current Afghanistan. Iraq is nowhere near as united and cohesive as Germany was, with a relatively long history as a unified nation state with an advanced system of government. But nor does it consist of a completely disunited group of feudal warlords with a history of almost continual warfare going back centuries. It is a relatively advanced country with an educated governing elite, but some potential ethnic tensions and rivalries that could cause problems unless handled carefully. There is every reason to believe that it can be turned into an advanced liberal democracy with intelligent, careful nation-building strategies. Whether the Bush Administration has the capacity to deliver those strategies is another question.

>>"No doubt that's why Turkey seems no longer concerned about the Kurds as such." -- The U.S. told the P.U.K. on the weekend they had to down arms and let the Turks take over Nth Iraq, to which they said, understandably, feck off. Given Turkey's ancient claims to Kirkuk (world's great oil prize), armed presence of all major ethnic groupings as well as Iran, the U.S. is going to have to fork over billions and billions to keep people bribed and pacified. for more info

I concur.. .Both of us want to move the debate on from the 'going to war' issue. I havce very little to add to what I have said--and have no interest in polemics on this.

AFrom what I can see we are both trying to explore what will happen after the war. Both have also tried to assess the nature of the dangers (Australia for me) and the possible strategic responses to these dangers. It strikes me that we are doing something similar here, but we have different ways of going about it.

I don't doubt what you say about the possibilities of Iraq becoming a modern liberal democratic state.I really do hope the Iraqi's can pull it of. But it is not Australia's fight--apart from providing sanctuary for the refugees from the fallout of regime change.

My pessimism is a deliberate counterpoint to liberal optimism. Butit is underpined by an argument with two strands. First I do not think that the Bush administration is deeply committed to this --empire concerns dominate. Both of us are sceptical on this one. Me more so, cos I fear that the Iraqi people will be sold down the river on democracy.

Secondly, a successive nation state requires some sort of national cohesion to hold it together. I do not see any attempt to think through a future Iraq as a multinational state consisting of Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shi'ites Arabs.

What I sense is an ongoing repression of ethnic difference--of Kurds and Shi'ites through the continuation of the mechanisms and personnel of the current Iraqi regime. The concerns of state rides over all because it has to maintain stability in the region and act to contain Iran.

>>What I sense is an ongoing repression of ethnic difference--of Kurds and Shi'ites through the continuation of the mechanisms and personnel of the current Iraqi regime. Isn't this -- the fear that the colonialist, artificial boundaries of Iraq, imposed by the West on the Middle East in such a way that people like the Kurds and Palestinians remain seemingly permanently disenfranchised and unfree? The big reason why Bush Sr. didn't take down Saddam the first time was because it was not in the self interest of the USA. That's why they can continue to blithly deny the human rights of Kurds. Why warbloggers aplenty, such as the current visitor to these boards, can continue to callously ignore them in his analysis. As for the Arab "Street" and the removal of Saddam -- The neighbouring states of Iraq (ie Saudia Arabia, Jordan)nominally allies of the U.S.A., believed such a move would also be highly destablising to their own regimes, by encouraging wahabbists of the extremist variety to exploit the chaos and fog of war to accomplish similiar to them in a no-holds bar war that starts with Iraq and finishes in Riyad and East Jerusalem. Indeed this is the advice of the pro-arabists inside the CIA like that Pelletierer chappie, who continually have been at War under Shrub with the pro Israeli "dual loyalties" crowd in the Pentagon -- you know, the people who plan to trigger the return of Jebus. They explicity do not want a peaceful settlement with anyone, until they have recaptured the Temple Mount for the Israeli state. These people are now in government in Israel with Sharon, and 33 palestinians were killed last week, along with several Israelis. Countless millions are now at dire risk of a nuclear, chemical or biological catastrophe, yet we sit as stunned mullets and deny what is happening all around us.

PS I am off the throw "peace balls" at the Big Pineapple at Parliament House with the Green Party.

*er, "to throw"