Monday, January 4, 2010

An American or Iraqi Failure?

Jaber Habib Jaber

The question asked by many people is: Why has the United States succeeded through the Marshall Plan and the security umbrella in contributing to the introduction of successful well-established and practical democracies in both Germany and Japan, and why there is a great chance of success for this project in both Iraq and Afghanistan?

The most important answer, among more than possible ones, is that you cannot manufacture a modern democratic system in societies that have not completed the modernization plan. Moreover in these societies the project has suffered a major setback.

The fact is that the United States that occupies Iraq and Afghanistan is not the same United States that occupied Germany and Japan. When it occupied Germany and Japan, the United States at that time was still in the stages of being the proud model of the dream, progress, coexistence, and prosperity, and it was under the control of rational ideologies with liberal tendencies, and not under the control of the ideas of the neo-conservatives and the myths of the right-wing Christians. Moreover, our societies themselves belong to a different era than that to which Germany or even Japan - which is known for its conservatism - belonged.

Also the regional environment has not been suitable or encouraging for any U.S. tendency to ripen a modern project of nation and democracy building in the region. Let us go back seven years in our memories to remember the way most of our regional media dealt with the change in Iraq, and the volume of the waged war, the suspicions, and even the deception that tried to hide the hopes of some people that the experiment would fail, even if the Iraqis and the Afghans were the ones who would pay the price; the only reason was a morbid hatred of everything western.

It is no secret that despite everything, and all the slogans about occupation and resistance, the majority of the Iraqis wanted change, wanted to see a new horizon, and they were even ready to experiment after a long time of closed and blocked political and social horizons and destructive wars. However, four primary factors gathered to sabotage the opportunity.

The first factor is that the United States was not sure of what it wanted in Iraq. Within the United States two tendencies were in conflict with each other. One tendency wanted to undertake a difficult, long-term, and costly process to build the nation, a process that would be able to introduce a radical change, similar to the change introduced by the U.S. policy in Europe after World War II. The other tendency considered Iraq as a mysterious fabric of Islamic culture, conservative customs, and oil. This tendency did not have any inclination to deal in the long-term way with the complexities of Iraq, and opted to adopt a purely pragmatic course. This pragmatic course reached in the case of some - especially at the U.S. State Department - the level of pushing forward in the direction of consecrating the ethnic and sectarian hostilities within the Iraqi society on the basis of the traditional colonialist logic "divide and rule."

The second factor is the cultural and mental structure of the Iraqi citizen. This structure is based on a mixture of mistrust of authority and any state project, suspicion of everything that stems from the west, and some kind of religious conservatism, which was quickly polarized by the concept of crusade invasion, and then by the sectarian divisions.

The third factor is the huge political, religious, and media flux from the neighboring countries, and which aimed to nurture the elements of doubt, mistrust, and negative attitude toward any new project. With that, the concept of armed resistance was launched; a concept for whose adventures some regions in Iraq paid a high price. Another product of this factor also was that the Sunnis boycotted the political process in the beginning; this disturbed the process, and made it incomplete for a long time.

The fourth factor is the arrival of an inexperienced political class that has no project for building the nation and the state, a class that cannot move outside the framework of the limited and narrow-minded bargaining, and that is controlled by ethnic and sectarian divisions and suspicions.

All these factors combined together based on a strong ground of hatred of the democratic project, or inability to understand it. This is the ground of the society in which the modernization project suffered a setback, and faced by this setback it had to return to its old tools (the tribe, the sect, and the clan) after the state, especially after the defeat in Kuwait in 1991, abandoned its role as provider of services and promoter of the change project. In the eyes of many Iraqis, the state was transformed into intelligence and security organizations and partisan groups whose members knocked on doors to collect donations, to mobilize for demonstrations in support of the "wisdom of the leadership," to recruit people, or to recover the price of the bullet that was used to execute their sons.

Also in the nineties the state adopted a wide-scale revival of tribalism and clannish tendencies, and their institutions. This meant the demolition of what was left of the modernization project that the Baathists adopted at the beginning of the seventies, and even made a considerable progress in it through projects such as combating illiteracy and mandatory education, despite the fact that they were wrapped in propaganda and ideological controls. This was before the Baath was demolished as a party and turned into a property of an alliance of clans and peasants led by a gang of ignorant and semi-educated individuals.

I point out this fact in order to encourage the minds to bypass our traditional concepts, which we use in dealing with our near past and our present, including the dysfunction in understanding the phenomenon of the Baath Party. I believe that the Baath Party died as a political and ideological organization in the mid seventies, and that what we have known as the Baath Party after that was nothing other than a security and military organization subordinate to Saddam Hussein.

Understanding the past, specifically the social dimension, is the gateway to understanding what is taking place now. The nature of the Iraqi crisis is that it is a structural crisis coupled with the chronic failure of the state to reconcile itself with the society, and to lead a real and modern project of change in the society.

*Published in the London-based ASHARQ ALAWSAT on Jan. 4, 2009.