Monday, June 29, 2009

Independence Day?

Today is the last day that American troops are supposed to be in the cities of Iraq, with the Iraqi Army and police forces taking over the job of providing security to the people. As of tomorrow, the US troops are only supposed to engage in operations at the request of the Iraqis, more or less. I am, as they say, as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

There are a few major problems with the new status quo:
  • The Iraqi government has not fulfilled the various promises made to the Sunni militias that sided with the US forces against Al Qaeda of Iraq.
  • The Iraqi parliament has not made that much progress on enacting legislation that would deal with many of the outstanding issues and grievances.
  • The Iraqi security forces are a mixed bag--some quite capable, others quite lame.
  • The last year of semi-peace may have been the result of the various opponents biding their time until the US forces go back to their large bases.
Thomas Ricks has had a series of pieces documenting the "unraveling." If we get through the next year or two without major violence, I think we will be lucky.

In any society, governments play two potential roles at the same time: they can deter potential rebels/bad guys through the selective and discriminate use of coercion; and governments can create violence by presenting a severe threat to the populace. Much of the violence since World War II has been the product of governments preying upon their societies. So, to have a peaceful, stable and reasonably decent society, we need governments that are strong enough to deter those who would threaten relatively innocent parties while these same governments would have to be restrained enough to assure the citizens that its coercive apparati would only be aimed at those who break the laws. [This is the theme of a fantastic but obscure/over-priced edited volume that came out last year]

This delicate balancing act is a challenge for all political systems, and is particularly hard during or after civil wars and insurgencies. The question of the day is whether the Iraqi government will be capable and competent enough to use force selectively and only threaten those that are determined to bring it down. As you can tell, I have my doubts.

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