bitter sanity

Wake up and smell the grjklbrxwg, earth beings.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

[posted by jaed at 3:21 PM]
Rumsfelt talks sense, film at eleven
Today's WaPo has a Rumsfeld piece discussing Iraq. There is the expected reiteration of the positive statistics he rolled out a couple of weeks ago:
We have made solid progress: Within two months, all major Iraqi cities and most towns had municipal councils -- something that took eight months in postwar Germany. Within four months the Iraqi Governing Council had appointed a cabinet -- something that took 14 months in Germany. An independent Iraqi Central Bank was established and a new currency announced in just two months -- accomplishments that took three years in postwar Germany. Within two months a new Iraqi police force was conducting joint patrols with coalition forces. Within three months, we had begun training a new Iraqi army -- and today some 56,000 are participating in the defense of their country. By contrast, it took 14 months to establish a police force in Germany and 10 years to begin training a new German army.
And there's also some philosophizing about the concept of "nation-building":
Why is enlisting Iraqis in security and governance so important?

Because it is their country. We are not in Iraq to engage in nation-building -- our mission is to help Iraqis so that they can build their own nation. That is an important distinction.

A foreign presence in any country is unnatural. It is much like a broken bone. If it's not set properly at the outset, the muscles and tendons will grow around the break, and eventually the body will adjust to the abnormal condition.
The concept of nation-building has always bothered me - not least because it conflates a number of different kinds of projects, some of which are more realistic (and more helpful) than others. The first time I remember seeing the term widely used was in reference to Somalia, where it seemed to represent a grandiose vision of creation of a nation out of nothing. I don't think that's ever going to work well.

People have lately been using the term "nation-building" to describe what was done in Germany and Japan after WWII, but both Germany and Japan were nations before that. What we did is more like "nation-reconstituting" - taking apart and rebuilding political structures, taking measures to change political attitudes, along with financial aid and investment to deal with immediate material needs and get the economy on the road to recovery.

This is drastic, but it's not the same as creating a nation out of the raw stuff of human beings; if these countries hadn't already had deep national identities, what came out the other end of the process wouldn't have been a nation. Anarchy, perhaps. Or perhaps a conglomerate of polities stuck together with tape and ready to come apart when stressed, like Yugoslavia.

These ruminations of course invite consideration of which category Iraq falls into. Iraq started life as an artificial state, one of many that European colonialism left behind. Various groups are stuck together with duct tape into one country, inside one set of borders, and most of those groups extend outside the borders. If people identify with their group - Kurds, Arabs, whoever - more closely than with the country, it's a recipe for disaster. I'm not sure myself whether I think Iraq is a viable country in the long term.

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