In the past few months the US occupation of an Iraq in "transition" has become increasingly unpopular. The voices urging the Bush administration to finally eliminate Saddam and his "weapons of mass destruction" have now changed their tune to pull out. The question is not if, but when this will happen.
After doing their best to "secure" the Middle East and wipe out terrorists, the US is keen on cutting their losses and getting out before things get truly ugly. In the meanwhile, Iraq is closer to civil war than stability.
Iraq’s instability stems from the massive political, social, cultural and economic reordering being undertaken at the moment. It’s doubly problematic in that this reordering is ensconced in a multitude of interests at the domestic and international levels. It touches on national politics, on regional politics and on superpower whims. Increasingly it is even made into a matter (or, depending on one’s ideological proclivity, a “problem”) of culture. From the view of political economists it is a source of the world economy’s instability of oil production and the consequent sky-rocketing of fuel prices impacting on each and every human being on the planet. Increasingly, it may be seen that Iraq’s struggle is also the world’s struggle.
View Number One might very well argue that the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime was crucial in the revitalized “policing” power of the lone superpower. The uncertainties of the post-Cold War era seemed to have suddenly been replaced by the intractable US engagement in world security soon after its domestic territory was breached by sowers of terror in September 11, 2001. While scholars of View Number Two persuasion were busy dreaming of a world were there is no longer a monopoly of power, that fateful day seemed to have demonstrated the need for a hegemon to maintain stability. This awesome power was abundantly demonstrated in the US’ single-minded bypassing of the UN Security Council mandate despite objectives from many quarters. Multilateralism seemed to have failed in view of the superpower’s national interest.
Indeed Iraq’s stability, sovereignty, its very statehood seemed to have been sacrificed in the altar of US hegemony, the US need to rid the world of internationally-organized terrorism and once again show its supremacy.
View Number Three would claim that Iraq was not sacrificed on the altar of the might US State, but on the altar of the mighty American capitalist class. They would view the Bush administration as captive of the American oil industry’s interests in securing access to the world’s second largest holder of oil reserves. The war in Iraq could also have serviced the business interest o the US military-industrial complex. Indeed, upon closer inspection of key personnel in the Bush administration, including Bush himself, once cannot help but entertain these ideas. The US invasion of Iraq not only brought profits to Bush’s capitalist cronies but also brought legitimacy to his government and presidency plagued by accusations of election fraud and ineptness.
The issue of transplanting a liberal democracy on Iraqi soil is as problematic an issue as the ones we’ve mentioned so far. Democracy today has been pretty much equated to the liberal democratic model posed by a few select Western countries. Democracy (i.e. liberal democracy) today is widely seen as a common good, a universal value that all of the world’s nation-stats must aspire to achieve. Indeed the process of democratization itself has in the past few decades engendered a sizeable number of literature, attested to by the success of certain authors writing about democracy and the multitude of journals worldwide.
So, already in contention is whether there is indeed a universally apt kind of democracy that can fit the needs of any State. Is this kind of liberal democracy, the kind the United States has attempted to instill in many parts of e world, including the Philippines, the right model for Iraq? It is testament to the American hegemonic power (in the Gramscian sense) that it has managed to impose its own definition of democracy on the concept of Democracy itself. At the core, liberal democracy is the right to representation, the assurance of free and regular elections as well as civil and political rights. Many scholars argue that liberal democracy does not ensure economic and social rights.
So with the contentious concept of democracy itself, we turn to the question of Iraq’s prospects of “operating within a democratic system.” What are the prospects of Iraq’s successful transition to democracy?
Before US intervention Iraq has been an authoritarian regime for the last two decades. It also has its share of social divisions by way of Sunni and Shi’ite rivalry as well as the Kurdish minority. By way of social solidarity, democratization by representation may very well exacerbate social divisions. The US as the intervening external power as been accused of taking advantage of this fissure in order to further its own interests.
In terms of economic development, Iraq plays the role of key owner of a vital economic resource; petroleum. It has been incorporated into the world economy as a primary supplier of this strategic resource. State ownership of oil resources will certainly make state officialdom a lucrative endeavor. In this particular setting it is difficult to see State-sponsored development where there is little need for the State to distribute economic gains to the rest of the population. Or indeed, where the State does not need monetary contribution (by way of taxes) for the government machinery to function. An elite-controlled and driven “democratically-elected” Iraqi government does not bode well for making the state truly responsive to its constituents.
While there are the domestic issues of class alliances and divisions, the consolidation of power of the political and economic elites, the prospects for the formation of a vibrant civil society, the assurance and protection of civic and political rights of individuals, the nascent Iraqi state must also somehow address the external issues of continued US intervention, the role it plays in the conflicts of the Middle East region, the role it plays in world oil politics on top of safeguarding its very own existence.
From the looks of it, Iraq has a very long way to go before it can be consolidated as a State fashioned in the image of the US and a longer way still for it to be truly democratic.