March 25, 2003
A few thoughts on liberation.

When German troops marched into Estonia during WWII, they were greeted as liberators. Not because the Germans were bringing democracy or even ambiguously-defined "freedom", but because life under the Russians had been the worst thing to happen to the country up until that point. As it happened, being ruled by Nazis wasn't much better. Life under Stalin after the war was still worse (thousands were shipped off to Siberian labour camps and prisons or simply killed), but that was yet to come.

Iraqis in Iraq seem to understand fairly well that the sanctions strengthened Saddam Hussein, strangled their economy, and led to the horrors of the past ten years. Many also don't seem convinced that being invaded by the Americans is better than life as usual under Hussein.

The US (or the UN) could have taken it upon itself to liberate Iraq at any point during the past ten years, through a combination of the following options: creation of autonomous zones in southern Iraq, adoption of sanctions that hurt Saddam instead of hurting his people, supporting dissident groups, and finding ways to ensure that people don't starve.

It's important to understand what makes those options different from a military invasion. Foremost, it involves giving power over to the Iraqis (of whom Shi'ites and Kurds form a vast majority). The Shi'ites would likely make peace with Iran and form strong cultural and economic ties with that other member of the axis of evil, while the Kurds would leverage political power into the creation of a Kurdish state, or put a lot of pressure (maybe by funding and staging terrorist attacks, among more peaceful means) on Turkey, which has oppressed the Kurds for a long time now.

For these same reasons, real democracy in Iraq would directly contradict US interests. I'm guessing that's why the Bush administration never says "democracy" in relation to Iraq, but substitutes effectively meaningless phrases like "self-government" and "representative government". Many observers have, with undue charity, claimed that Bush will set up a democracy, though I know of no instance where Bush himself has actually made the claim. (I would be happy to be proven wrong on this point, and any others.)

posted by dru in article

The US isn't primarily interested in placating Turkey and Saudi Arabia while keeping Iran from growing its power, though. From what I can see, there are four intertwined objectives in the middle east: the enrichment of US corporations and investors; a military presence and credible threat throughout the region; influence over the price of oil, and rendering OPEC impotent; and control over the economic interests of other competing industrialized countries (France, Germany, Japan, China) in the middle east.

Any significant Iraqi self-determinism runs counter to these objectives as well.

Luckily for the US, the self-determinism of a people who have been starved and oppressed by a small elite for ten years isn't really an issue. If free markets and a well-trained "representative government" are in place, the current elites will be in an excellent position to funnel the wealth of the country into the bank accounts of US corporations. The majority of the population lives in abject poverty, and are in no position to wield the kind of political power necessary to overturn a new constitution with conditions favourable to exploitation built in.

Or will they?

Surely there will be demand for a redistribution of wealth and a use of Iraqi resources for Iraqi interests. This is a country, after all, that had widespread university education and free health care within living memory. The father of a friend of mine travels to Iraq once a year (he packs his bag with pharmaceuticals that keep his friends there alive), and the engineering firm he works with is full of people with PhDs who don't get paid, but continue to work because they have nothing else to do, thanks to the sanctions. The firm had 6000 employees when the sanctions began, but dwindled to half that, mostly due to starvation and suicide.

On the other hand, the control over media outlets and distribution of goods by an elite with a huge head start cannot be underestimated. Likely, post-war Iraq will be a poorer version of post-war Bosnia, or post-communism Russia: plenty of unrest and instability with nothing to show for it. Add a heavy dose of anti-American sentiment, and stir.

I'm assuming, of course, that it is impossible that Bush will actually try to build an Iraq for the Iraqis. There is simply no precedent for it, except during the cold war, when West Germany, Japan, and France had to be built up, lest they be succeptible to communism (like Vietnam and Cuba). There is no such need after the end of the end of history.

Some possibilities: air-drop Arabic translations of Civil Disobedience and Ghandi's autobiography, raise funds for community media projects... but mostly, get large quantities of food into the country to keep people from starving as soon as possible.