Sunday, April 20, 2003

Nation Building in Arid Soil
Although I never thought importing democratic institutions to the Middle East would be easy, I am beginning to wonder if it might not require the use of much more military force than may be palatable for the international community. Take this report for example, which details the attacks on schools in Afghanistan by radical Islamists. And the recent reports out of Iraq are not much more encouraging. Though I must note that I think the media is making way too much of the looting. It can be explained by the emotional turbulence caused by the toppling of a tyrant. Looting even happens here in America, sometimes after teams win championships, so why is it so problematic in Iraq? It is only an issue if you have an ideological stake in discrediting regime change.
But back to my original point about the difficulties in constructing civic institutions. First of all, there is a capacity problem. Many of these people have lived under repressive regimes for so long that they have little experience in civic participation. They were accustomed to keeping their heads down and going about their business. They have little or no history of democratic elections. However, in Iraq there are at least a cadre of bureaucrats who might be called upon to run the government. But in Afghanistan, where the Taliban had turned back the clock to the Dark Ages, there is virtually no capacity to govern in a modern sense. The rule of law is intimidation and violence.
These two countries are not the former Soviet republics, where many civic institutions existed, though were circumscribed. Such institutions will have to be built from the gorund up, which is challenging enough in itself. But it will have to occur in the face of opposition from Islamic fascists who would like for society to remain in the Dark Ages. And they will not just try to undermine efforts to liberalize these two societies, but they will use violence and terror to stop progress. The question for the US and its allies is how much of their own force are they willing to exert in order to squelch Islamic fascism and prevent the re-oppression of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.


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