Sowell on Iraq: Law and order must precede democracy

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Thomas Sowell aims his laser-like brain at the situation in Iraq and how political decisions led to the current messy situation and how stateside political pressures are about to make things worse.

Here's the heart of the column:

Nations cannot be built.

You can transplant institutions from one country to another, but you cannot transplant the history and culture from which the attitudes and traditions evolved that enable those institutions to work.

It took centuries for democracy to evolve in the Western world. Yet we tried to create democracy in Iraq before we created the security — the law and order — that is a prerequisite for any form of viable government.

Having made democracy the centerpiece of the reconstruction of postwar Iraq, Americans have been hamstrung by the inadequacies of that government and the fact that our military could not simply ignore the Iraqi government when its politicians got in the way of restoring law and order.

People will support tyranny before they will support anarchy. Both can be avoided by creating an interim government based on competence, rather than on its being an embodiment of democratic ideals.

Sowell gives several examples of nations that weren't at all democratic 50 years ago but are there now or are at least headed in that direction.

Hong Kong under British rule is an example of how a society can have freedom and stability without democracy. Hong Kong was ruled from London, and the residents of the Crown Colony had no say in their laws or leaders at all until the last few years before the handover to China. But life, liberty, and property were protected by due process of law. If you entered into a contract, you knew it could be enforced. Economic activity was generally free from heavy-handed regulation. The colony thrived and was an enclave of liberty.

It was a mistake for US politicians to hold elections and create a new Iraqi government as quickly as it did. And before anyone blames the neo-cons, the idea that free and fair elections are all you need to create a free society has a long pedigree, going all the way back to Woodrow Wilson. The notion that occupation should be brief, and that elected locals should be put in charge as soon as possible, is an article of faith in Western foreign policy that dates back to the decolonization movement that followed World War II.

What we should have done is to treat Iraq and Afghanistan as trust territories -- not owned like a colony, to be exploited for its resources, but held in trust for the peoples of those nations, governed by the US with a view to their long-term interests. Democracy would come eventually, but not until the rule of law was well established.

Sowell's assessment of the problems with too quickly reestablishing a democratic form of government doesn't mean that he supports leaving now, and he makes a pointed diagnosis of the intentions of some members of Congress:

What has gone right is that the Iraq war is already over. Our troops won it. But our politicians may once more lose the peace — and with disastrous consequences for us and for the world.

Peace has not been achieved in Iraq, though pacification continues — always at a cost in American lives — and shows signs of progress, much to the dismay of those who have bet their political future on an American defeat.

Defeatists have not yet had the courage to directly ensure defeat by cutting off the money to continue military operations in Iraq.

That would be taking responsibility for the defeat. What would serve their political purpose better would be to legislate preconditions for the spending of military appropriations that would make defeat inevitable, but let it be seen as Bush’s defeat, not theirs.

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3 Comments

Dan Paden said:

Yep, that's about the size of it. I thought at the outset that if we were going to go in there at all, we had better be prepared to be there for a long, long time. And dadgummit, I may be prematurely senile, but I'm pretty sure I heard President Bush say that it'd be a long term effort.

More than anything else about this whole affair, I've been gobsmacked by the people that thought a working representational government could be established within just a couple of years, or measured success and failure by that standard.

sbtulsa said:

If the population is willing to sacrifice for it, a republic can work. That committmenti represnted by the willingness to support law and order, without which democracy cannot prevail. so far, the iracqi people seem to want the benefits of freedom but not make the sacrifice.

Mark said:

I agree with a lot of Sowell’s theoretical analysis. However, he is a much better political scientist than observer. How can he possibly call Iraq a “win”? The fact of the matter is that Iraq is the worst foreign policy blunder of my lifetime.

And no, we cannot let the Neo-cons off the hook. They must bear full responsibility for this nightmare. To suggest that historical precedent absolves them is little different than trying to absolve Hitler from the Holocaust because he acted in a long tradition of anti-semitism. Wrong is wrong, regardless of whether you’re in “good” company.

Sowell can label those of us looking for a way out “defeatists”, but those of us of faith know that we are walking in the footsteps of Christ in calling for the troops (and more) to come home. Perceptions of “defeat” or “victory” should be irrelevant. As the Proverbs teach, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Is it not absurd that Islamic fundamentalists and American evangelicals closely share a critique of America’s secular culture (e.g. sex, drugs and rap), yet many evangelicals are more than willing to tolerate the killing and maiming of hundreds of thousands to defend the intrusion of that secular culture abroad? Let’s bring our sinful culture back home and retrieve it from the sewer before we ever think of exporting it again.

The Iraq War was never really about terrorism. It was about influence in a region viewed as necessary to fuel America’s sinful consumerism. It was about defending Israel. And it was even about a son’s understandable desire to avenge an assassination plot against his father. So I think Ron Paul has got it pretty much right:

“The war in Iraq was sold to us with false information. The area is more dangerous now than when we entered it. We destroyed a regime hated by our direct enemies, the jihadists, and created thousands of new recruits for them. This war has cost more than 3,000 American lives, thousands of seriously wounded, and hundreds of billions of dollars. We must have new leadership in the White House to ensure this never happens again.”

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 18, 2007 11:34 PM.

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