OxBlog

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

# Posted 4:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SILENCE AND WISDOM. Josh defends the Bush adminstration for not addressing the issue of how to rebuild postwar Iraq. He thinks silence might be the best policy for three reasons:

First, "it's entirely possible that we just don't know enough" about Iraq to plan for an occupation. I find that to be a disturbing thought. First of all, the administration has an obligation to establish clear expectations about the nature of postwar Iraq before committing itself to regime change. While nothing could be worse than the current government, that is hardly an excuse for not wanting the best possible government to replace it.

Moreover, how can one defend ignorance on the part of our intelligence organizations, which are allegedly the world's most sophisticated? As Nicholas Kristof has discovered while reporting from Iraq, there are self-evident divisions among its population which led to horrific violence after the Gulf War and which will do so again if the United States doesn't plan for the occupation. The fact that Kristof is aware of such divisions also suggests that the administration has no excuse for ignorance.

Josh also asserts that "laying out a formula in advance may not be the most effective way of democratizing Iraq". As in wartime, communicating one's tactics to the enemy may result in a catastrophic defeat. I would argue otherwise, however. Since there is no question that the most important influence in post-war Iraq will be the United States, it has much to gain by establishing firm expectations about what sort of behavior it expects from the numerous religious, political, and geographic factions vying for power. If we are to avoid the horrific violence Kristof describes, then signalling our intentions to the potential perpetrators of such violence is a must.

Third, Josh suggests that the moderate successes achieved in occupied Afghanistan are reason to trust the administration's ability to handle whatever situation arises in postwar Iraq. I think that such an approach reflects an excess of optimism with regard to Afghanistan. As The New Republic reported in May, the US has let Afghanistan descend into warlord rule once again despite Bush's extravagant promises of a Middle Eastern Marhsall Plan. But what should one expect if the US has still not accepted the idea that peacekeeping forces have to operate outside of Kabul?

Even more damning, from a both an ethical as well as a strategic perspective, is that the administration has slashed aid to Afghanistan by 60% for fiscal 2003 while creating bureaucratic fictions to prevent the disbursement of aid Bush personally promised Hamid Karzai. Unsurprisingly, farm subsidies have fared better when it comes to administration budget plans.
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