The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Central_Asia/EH14Ag03.html Aug 14, 2003 Nation-building mental blocks B Matthew Riemer Though the wars fought in Afghanistan and Iraq were tactically dissimilar and of varying levels of intensity, the post-war social, cultural and political factors at play are very similar. The most relevant and foundational similarity between the two countries is their creation: each was cobbled together from a plethora of local, autonomous/tribal regions into reluctant wholes in the form of what the conquering country felt to be a modern nation-state. And for both, since their involuntary birth, this fact has hampered their development, as well as posing a deep, historical puzzle for, first, Great Britain and now the United States, in their efforts at "nation building". This predicament - if only in the name of thoroughness - must eventually elicit a series of important questions from the concerned observer, some of which might be: What are the inherent weaknesses of the "nation-state" model? When Washington uses the phrase "nation building", what does this really imply? Is the so-called "nation-state" a viable model for Afghanistan and Iraq? The US may be uncovering a troublesome truth in its latest global endeavors: the fact that the nation-state is not a universal model for all regions and peoples of the world, and, in some cases, it may even obstruct the development of the very stability and select economic development that the US is seeking through its operations - especially in areas with a concentration of ethnic diversity, like in the Balkans, the Caucasus and much of Central Asia, where state-sized regions more readily stabilize under a sub-network of autonomous zones defined by some obvious feature, whether it be ethnic, linguistic or geographical. The dominant US polity has always assumed that the keys to American success are the keys to global success, that what works for them will work for others. This belief has led many in the US leadership to think that concepts like democracy and free market capitalism can be smoothly exported to other regions and environments and have the same effect that they had in 18th and 19th century America. This widely held belief is shared by the Bush administration and has been explicitly stated in its 2002 National Security Strategy. However, unlike modern-day Afghanistan and Iraq, America, at the time of its founding, consisted of a single ruling class that came together to codify the social and economic rules that others would live by and best continue their prosperity. These individuals were all wealthy, Caucasian, Christian males who shared broad and overlapping interests. These so-called "founding fathers" also decided on their inherent and inevitable sovereignty and its announcement at a time and place of their choosing. This picture, to even the most casual of observers, paints a perfect contrast with the countries in which the US is currently attempting nation building today. Both countries represent a diverse array of languages, religions and cultural traditions, while encompassing regions that were never unified in the sense that a modern day independent state is. This fact alone complicates the democratic process to the point of futility: the biggest obstacle being the interests of minority groups within any given state. But this is a painful reality for Washington to accept as it greatly affects the continuation of economic paradigms so cherished throughout the centers of power in the Western world. If the Bush administration, other influential world leaders and future US administrations were to accept a greater amount of regional autonomy in distant lands - like by letting Iraq splinter into three independent states or at least autonomous regions - this would greatly affect the implementation of laws concerning free trade and deregulation; such political forms provide infrastructural barriers to the rather organic growth of free market economies. By being self-contained and, to a certain degree, self-reliant, regions where such a process were to take place inhibit the plans of Washington's economists. There are other concerns, however, when hypothetically imagining the breakup of larger states into multiple smaller ones. One of the biggest of these fears is the potential shift in regional power balances. For example, if southern Iraq were to become its own state completely dominated by Shi'ites, this would undoubtedly portend some kind of union with Iran, possibly to the point of annexation on the part of Tehran. If the Kurds in the north were to gain their independence, this would ruffle Turkey and put diplomatic pressure on Washington. This is obviously not in the interests of the US. Further east in Central Asia, reflections on Afghanistan produce similar results. Though Afghanistan is different from Iraq in that it has endured failed government after failed government for decades with regular periods of anarchy - warlords unconvincingly filling the power vacuums - while Iraq was ruled consistently by centralized power. If Afghanistan were to fragment, it would be more difficult to predict what may happen - virtually all the warlords have both fought and been allied with one another at some point. Certainly, the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan in the south and east would completely blur if the Pashtuns were to realize a long-awaited Pashtunistan; in the eyes of Washington, this would provide an undesirable strategic boost for Islamabad, despite their partnership in the US "war on terror". And, like in Iraq, Iran could be expected to curry favor with those along its border - Iranian border patrols did skirmish with the Taliban from time to time - such as the governor of Herat, Ismail Khan. Because of such potential for unpredictable and dangerous events, such state fragmentation will remain a non-starter for Washington - market growth, acquisition and stability are just too much at risk in that kind of environment. So in this categorical rejection of new, or perhaps old, political forms, the US must realize what that rejection brings to the table: the situation currently faced by the occupying forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq today. In both countries, diverse groups with overlapping agendas are jockeying for position in a post-war context that features low-intensity guerrilla warfare, an occupying army, and the marginalization of large percentages of the population. It remains a dubious proposition that both Afghanistan and Iraq can be shaped into fully functioning and integrated (within the globalized economic infrastructure) nation-states capable of long periods of stability, relative peace and economic growth. The US must decide what it really wants. Does it want democracy? And if it does, it must realize what democracy can actually mean in volatile regions such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Instability and democracy are not mutually exclusive conditions - democracy does not equal stability - and revolution - regardless of what one conceives it to be - is a democratic expression. Given a true choice, many people in many countries may feel no solidarity with a colonially-created "nation". And if the primary interests of the US are ones of economic security through expanded markets in new regions, the leadership in Washington must expect the degree of resistance to its efforts that it is now receiving in Eurasia. Published with permission of the Power and Interest News Report, an analysis-based publication that seeks to provide insight into various conflicts, regions and points of interest around the globe. All comments should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email email@example.com All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk