Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.

Freedom's Fidelity

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Amer Tehari: Chaos is Progress

Free societies are messy, especially in their infancy. Even mature democracies often appear disjointed and random. That is why I think Amer Tehari (a Middle East analyst that we should all be reading more of) writes that, in Iraq, much of this "chaos" is progress:
The new Iraq, as it is emerging, will be full of uncertainties. But that is precisely why the liberation war was justified. Under Saddam, the Iraqis faced only the certainty of concentration camps and mass graves.
The Iraqis are now free to debate all aspects of their individual and national life. Like other normal societies, Iraq is home to different, often conflicting, views on many issues. The fact that these views are now expressed without fear is a positive achievement of the liberation.
Democracy includes the freedom to demonstrate, especially against those in charge, and to "tear each other apart" in the media and town-hall debates. It includes the difficulty of reaching consensus on major issues. It is only in a despotic regime that complex issues can be settled with a nod from the tyrant.
Those who follow Iraqi politics would know that Iraq today is the only Arab country where all shades of opinion are now free to express themselves and to compete for influence and power in a free market of ideas. (Even the Ba'athists, whose party was formally banned after the liberation, are beginning to group in a number of local clubs.)
This is simply politics as usual. Yes, there are protests against the U.S. coalition. The Shi'ites, Kurds, and Arab Sunnis all have their own demands and are jockeying for political influence in the new Iraq. Some believe the constitution should name Islam as the official religion while others campaign for a secular state. Some (such as the Kurds) prefer a more federalist state that would allow for more regional autonomy, while others (such as the Sunni's and Shi'ite's) favor a strong central government.

What about foreign policy? Tehari summarizes these two issues that I think are of particular significance:
*Some parties want Iraq to withdraw from OPEC, the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and, instead, seek some form of association with the European Union. Others insist that the new constitution should preserve Iraq's traditional foreign relations.

*There are deep divisions on economic philosophy. The Kurds, and some Arab Sunnis, seek a welfare state in which the public sector provides the basic services free of charge. Many Shi'ites want a free-enterprise market economy to prepare Iraq for joining the World Trade Organization.
These issues carry major implications for the future of Iraq. It would be in their interest to seek association with the EU. As troubled as it is, OPEC is much worse and would offer little benefit to a resource rich, free Iraq. The idea of collusion and price fixing is certainly attractive as a money making venture, especially when (as is the condition with OPEC) it is perfectly legal. The drawback of collusion though is that it ends up creating an even greater incentive for its members to cheat. For example, OPEC agrees to sell X number of barrels at a price of $30 a barrel. Each member could make even more money if, under the table, they were to sell more than X number of barrels at $29. That is why the price of commodities such as gasoline have (in real terms) continually DECREASED over the last 20-30 years, despite OPEC's goal of the opposite. The leaders of these Arab countries never offered much help for Iraqi citizens as they were tyrannized by Hussein anyway, it would be in Iraq's own best interest to return the favor. Embracing free markets, with an eye towards becoming a part of the global economy would be a nice start for Iraq.

But it's up to them. Whatever decisions are reached will lay the foundation for their society and of course, have a long lasting effect on the identity of Iraq. Given the gravity of these issues, it should be expected that passions run high during debate. The people and political figures have a right, indeed a duty, to listen to all sides, sophisticated or otherwise. Remember we are talking about a people that for the last thirty years have been tortured, jailed, or killed if they expressed their own opinions, a people that have experienced a lifetime of the horrors that concentrated political power can unleash. These experiences should cause them to be especially cautious about handing too much power to one position of government.

The coalition has been right so far to resist the temptation to acquiesce to specific interest groups. It is surely a difficult thing to resist though. After all, if the United States was not committed to democracy in Iraq they could simply enforce a harsh crackdown on the whole country. This would certainly reduce our own casualties we suffer, but the risks are too great. Ruling in the manner that Saddam did would fatally compromise our integrity and commitment to democratic Iraq. Despite the fact that it would probably save U.S. soldier's lives in the short term, the coalition is right to resist the iron fist ruling that is so prevalent in the Middle East.

Dictatorships by their nature project an air of stability, but realize this characterization is utterly false. Under a authoritarian rule the horrors perpetrated by the powers that be cannot be shown by the media, it is only in a free society with a free press that suffering can be dramatized, which of course makes those free societies easier to undermine. Iraqi's finally have a chance to make a new life for themselves and the majority wants to seize this opportunity and make the most of it. The fact that open debates and protests are occurring without the consequences of torture and massacre by the whim of a mass murderer certainly qualifies as movement in the right direction.


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