Balkinization  

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Hobbes on the Euphrates

Scott Horton

Back in April, I found myself in Baghdad across the table from one of the nation’s most prominent judges. A man with a reputation for integrity and independence, he had resigned from the bench rather than implement a cruel set of directives issued by Saddam Hussein. He suffered and was forced into a marginal existence thereafter. The Coalition forces, noting the respect his name commanded, tapped him for a particularly sensitive role, which he has held ever since. Since judges are killed at the rate of one-per-week in Iraq, however, I am going to refrain from using his name.

In a wide ranging discussion, he came very quickly to talk about the occupation and its shortcomings.

“We despised Saddam Hussein, and his overthrow raised such wonderful possibilities for Iraq. But how could a country like the United States behave so stupidly as it did in those first crucial months? Saddam was a nightmare. But our country had a strong state with secular traditions. That needed to be preserved at all costs. Instead the Americans smashed that state. What did they expect Iraqis would do? It sent people scurrying back to the basic building blocks of our society, which are the clans and tribes. People turned to them for basic self-protection, not because of any political conviction. And this has led directly to the social disintegration we have today. The choices that the coalition took had consequences. You destroyed the state and you failed to put order in its place. You created chaos, in other words. And now we have to try to live with the consequences of the coalition’s decisions.”

These comments dovetailed with a “lessons learned” analysis I understand was done within the Department of Defense. As a part of the review, a “lack of cultural awareness” of Iraqi society was repeatedly cited. A DOD anthropologist notes that many of the most serious mistakes made in the early phase of the occupation relate to a misunderstanding of the consequences of the fall of the state. Just as my interlocutor noted, the people turned immediately to family ties for protection.

Surely political scientists already know this. The first chapters of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan reflect exactly the points that the Iraqi judge was making. With the collapse of the state and with no new order to replace it, Iraq fell into the war “of all against all.” Hobbes wrote,

“During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man… To this war of every man against every man, this also in consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues.” (ch. 13).

Put differently, the occupation heralded by the capture of Baghdad lacked the essential characteristic of an occupation - namely a new order. Hence, in Hobbesian terms, it was that form of war which encompasses the natural state of man.

In the August issue of Harper’s, Ken Silverstein probes more deeply into this process of social disintegration. He takes as his vehicle the rise of one particularly powerful, but shadowy figure in the current Iraqi Government: Bayan Jabr, the current minister of finance. Silverstein dubs him the “Minister of Civil War.” This article is fascinating and it offers an unusual glimpse deep inside the transformative process in Iraq that coincided with the “rule” of the Coalition Provisional Authority. This was a period which combined immense attention to public relations with Western media with an excruciatingly poor grip on the cancer that was developing in Iraq. The article is a must-read.

Comments:

Hindsight is 20/20. What infuriates me, though, is this problem was foreseen, and foreseen loudly, by the academic community and by the international community before the invasion. This is a lesson that didn't need to be learned with the blood of Americans and Iraqis.
 

Now where in the world is Chalabi, that cheap Iraqi whine, through all this?
 

I think Chalabi passed through here not long ago and collected some speaking money.

another great post Scott. Thank you.

Although I would prefer the focus on Locke's consent, it seems to me that there are two conflicting theories on democratizing other people:

(1) establish security first and then, from the top down, open up the rule making process to more and more people.

(2) get all the people in the habit of voting immediately.

Kilpatrick argues for the former. She likes to use Chile as a model. And, with the Bush as Pinoche, I think that’s what the USG had in mind for Iraq, i.e. to establish security and then hand over the decision making to Iraqi representatives.

Hopefully, that model has now bit the dust.

But we all know that we’ll be destroying governments in the future. But in rebuilding them, I would hope that we put the rule making decisions to the people faster and with greater involvement of the indigenous population.

Btw, the top down model never reaches all the way, since the there’s always a marginalized minority.
 

Yeah, it was a failure to read Hobbes. But it was also a misreading of Smith, too.

The ideology behind the occupation betrays a sort of back-of-the-napkin Smithian belief in self-assembling order--I mean, a view that order will spontaneously bubble up from disorder through the miracle of markets.

Abdul will have a few extra eggplants, and Akbar will have some extra olive oil, and--hey presto--a market will emerge. And then the day after that, a stock exchange, followed by third-order derivative trading a week later.

It's a version of his view that Smith would have laughed to scorn, but it is a sort of bastard exaggeration of Smith's truly astounding discovery that order can, in certain tightly constrained contexts, emerge out of disorder in a way that mimics the results of an omniscient ordering agent working from above.

The other way of putting this point is this: the people behind the reconstruction of Japan and Germany had been trained by the New Deal.

They had already done a lot of experimentation with how to combine central planning and gov't regulation with free markets and independent capital to regrow a nation from the ground up. They knew the indispensable role that central institutions play in making it possible for the Smithian miracle to occur--they had no illusions that you could destroy all of the civic institutions and expect order and cooperation to spring up out of nothing.

But the people behind the destruction of Iraq had never built or reconstructed anything in their lives. Destruction and asset-stripping is all they knew. And they had an ideology--Reaganesque anti-regulation, Norquistian nihilism--that told them this was a fine and good thing.

My point is: it wasn't a failure of execution. It was a failure of ideology.
 

What's that Latin saying?: That which appears in action first appears in thought

Okay, so maybe it’s more complicated than that.

I guess I’m frustrated with the primacy of security. With these cronies, it smacks of a smoke screen for controlling the extent to which authorities share power.

Admittedly, though, mine is a hard argument to make in the comfort of the Bay Area. But I agree with Judith Butler who thought that it was good to remind us that we owe our existence to our enemies.

And even if you buy Hobbes’ self-affirming ideas about the natural state of mankind as being war-like, crucial decision get made during wars.

There’s no acceptable reason why Iraqis on the ground (not Chalabi) couldn’t have been more involved in that process earlier.

I recall that group of doctors (and other hospital workers) who organized and protested the US neglect. Bingo. There’s your new, non-sectarian leaders. Organize a national party of them and give them authority.
 

James Fallows and Naomi Klein have written informative pieces on the economic and social aspects of the reconstruction. Klein's Baghdad Year Zero demonstrates how little thought went into the reconstruction beyond the Rendon Group's PR campaign to sell the war.

It's revealing that the Bush administration placed so little emphasis on the reconstruction, or rather, that they felt democracy would grow if they merely opened Iraq's markets to foreign exploitation. After all, that's the formula they've used here, which in their minds has been a formula for "success." Any failure must indicate a problem with Iraqi culture -- not with the formula itself.

Rather than admit failure, the solution became a lesson in rigid framing of a problem. The frame of choice -- war -- was much more desirable, so rather than apply the appropriate remedy, we find ourselves fighting a war that supposedly ended on May 1, 2003. And as is often the case with Cognitive Dissonance, no amount of information can dissuade them from abandoning the original theory. So we fight, because war is popular and nobody wants to lose a war. The irony is that being for war doesn't mean you'll win, nor does war create democracy. But then the solution to the problem always looked too much like social welfare programs, and the carnage in Iraq was a small price compared to admitting that they might work.
 

It also gives you glimpse of What Governments DO for YOU. These faux anti-government Conservative/Libertarian jack-asses who moan and bray about "Government" being the "problem" are self-centerd morons yearning for a halcyon time of *personal freedom* that NEVER existed.

And IF Katrina had any long lasting lesson…it's that IT can happen here...NOW...under the perfect storm of circumstances and neglect!

It's also imperative (and really ought to go without saying) that in a Top-Down governance system - as that in United states - it be run Competently!

But this bAdmin's cronyistic-incompetency based policies with an aversion to actually running Government is what will keep us from confronting the modern day crisis management of future catastrophes (a la Jared Diamond's descriptions in "Collapse"). Anyone want to say “Global Warming”?

And this is purely aside from the political world-wide Middle East Melt-down they are creating via the same haphazard incompetence and ill-conceived ignorant worldview permeating this entire administration.
 

And I had to find the comments of a portion of what I said back in 2004 and revised in 2005:

"Bob Grahams’ multiple examples (in his book "Intelligence Matters") of attempts made to warn George Bush that his plan for Iraq would become a huge, destabilizing mess, bad for the entire Middle eastern region and impossible for even for “friendly” Muslim countries to support.

It’s like hoping that if you blow up an entire city, as the bricks and plaster rain down from the sky, some of the pieces will fall and regroup themselves into a perfectly constructed, immaculate rendition of the ideal American House of Democracy just ready and waiting for its new occupant.

While, in the realm of an “everything is possible” theoretical version of the world…don’t they always say if enough monkey’s were given typewriters one of them could eventually compose a Shakespeare sonnet?…it’s just more likely that when you create the mass destruction and chaos throughout an entire country and its society you’ll end up with a large, uncertain mess that’s about as likely to reform itself into this American ideal (as seen through the rose-colored prism of G.W. Bush’s now famous “spreading liberty” worldview) as monkey’s writing Shakespeare.

What was, and is, far more realistic to assume is that even with the “freedom to choose” and “elections” for its now liberated-to-become-their-own-renegade-warlords and guerilla militia leaders, the populace in these countries will not end up a model of American democracy, but a model Theocracy of narrow extremist religious views. It is far more likely that there will be a continuation of warring factions fighting for the slim reins of power and control over rival religious points of view. Those that don’t win in these elections will just go out and take their own chunk of the liberated pie by force or coercion. In the lawlessness and chaos, and with long rooted histories in localized tribal rule rather than acquiescence to and outright aversion for strong central government, it is the most foreseeable scenario that these groups will continue to just ignore our “democratizing” efforts or create more insurgency to fight them. The vacuum of control has allowed in real Al Qaeda elements to enter (or re-enter) and organize and flourish as well.

It’s already happening, as predicted, in both Afghanistan and in Iraq today.

Even on my soccer mom's budget of time, research ability I've come to see that there aren't many places where democracy flourishes at the end of the muzzle of a foreign invader's gun unless it translates into the that "security" and "promised peace."

The 9/11 Commission report cited a “failure in imagination” as the Bush administration mind-set resulting in that fatal catastrophe.

Unfortunately, “lessons learned” is not a strong suit in our President’s efforts and he just keeps “failing to imagine” the unintended consequences of his actions no matter how much advice, warnings and objections surface before he implements his plans of attack.

Senator Bob Graham is right when he states that this outright incompetence and “failure in leadership at the highest levels of government” (plus all the other assorted maneuvers and cover-ups for poor government) should result in the removal of this President. I applaud Senator Graham for this strong stance and call for the responsibility of these failures to be addressed which are “so serious that it warrants the removal of George W. Bush from office.”


Still so true today as ever it was then!
 

: )
 

there you are, alex. you gave us your eloquent defense of Leo Strauss. now let's have a citation.

As John put it:

"I'd like to see some pretty good evidence that Strauss would have supported liberal democracy but reluctantly concluded that in the actual situation only authoritarian conservatives could effectively oppose Hitler."

Have mercy on us, dude, we're [d]emocratics. We're taught not to trust the authority of Man. We need text. Two or three page will do. thank you in advance. : )
 

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