On Iraq’s Future: Unstable Democracy,Violence and Corruption

Needless to say, there is nothing extraordinarily new to this. The end of this story is well known –we have seen it over and over again in many other regions. The sequence of US involvement in Iraq reproduces the features and stages of capitalism’s expansion since the nineteenth century, especially (but not only) in Africa and the Middle East:


Stage two: through a "benevolent" intervention (usually by military methods), the Empire reorganizes the native’s social life. They redraw their territorial arrangements to make them "a nation", and impose political and economic institutions in agreement with "civil" life. This involves a) the expansion of market relations and capitalist methods of production, and b) the making of a constitutional order that protects individual rights and establishes the foundations of a representative government.


After stage three, the colonial Empires of the past usually claimed that their mission had been accomplished: the "white man’s burden" or "mission civilisatrice" had been honored.


Stage four: in the independent "new nation", the social tensions that invariably come together with market relations and capitalist methods of production in the context of economic underdevelopment and postcolonial exploitation prove too strong. Social unrest, competition between rival elites and other centrifugal forces are impossible to contain by means of constitutional and "free" political institutions. Anarchy and/or despotic regimes come about. In somewhat "easier" cases or periods, authoritarian and corrupt forms of democracy prevail, periodically shattered by economic and political crises. These scenarios describe more or less the reality of almost every single Third World country during the twentieth century.


Recent developments in Afghanistan and Iraq indicate that a sixth stage might become customary from now on:


The history of Iraq displays all six stages: the British "invention" of the country we now call Iraq during the First World War and the setting up of transnational oil companies (stage one and two), was followed by the establishment of a (Western) monarchical constitution and negotiated independence in 1930 (stage three). After the Second World War a long period of political instability and coups d’état followed (stage four), accompanied by British and American constant "informal" interventions in defense of oil and geopolitical interests (stage five). One of the factions that the US supported was that of Saddam Hussein, who was later to become their enemy number one. The rest of the story is well known: the first Gulf War of 1991 was followed by direct military occupation of the country in 2003 (stage six/one).


Happy endings, however, do not seem to be likely in the case of Iraq. There is a fundamental difference between the British and the present Imperial episodes. Nobody believes in the narrative of progress and civilization any more –neither the cynic American politicians, nor the global public opinion or the Iraqis. The utter lack of legitimacy of any pro-Western institutional arrangement, and the evident fact that the new "market" economy will benefit anybody but the Iraqis, announce a difficult time for the American "nation builders".


True, the Empire (be it the US or the UN) may re-initiate the sequence at any time, simply by deciding that the natives are still too brutish to rule themselves. But the whole effectiveness of the "civilization" narrative collapses if the "learner" does not seem to be learning at all. Without legitimacy, the Empire will probably be dragged to a permanent low-intensity military intervention –just as in the present. In any case, even without Sadam, Iraq’s future looks gloomy in the new world of the permanent global war; but so does the Empire’s.


Leave a comment