Sunday, 24 March 2013

Iraq Ten Years On; Success or Failure?

It is ten years since the Iraq war began - and as you’d expect, we’ve heard lots this week from political and social commentators arguing for and against the success of the war.  Add to that the fact that we’re still stuck in a quagmire in Afghanistan, and facing lots more unrest in the Middle East, and in parts of Africa, and in North Korea too, and you’ll see the question of success or failure regarding our military mobilisation looms large.

The issue largely boils down to two questions; were the Government members’ intentions wise in the first place, and was what they did a success?  I’ve seen just about everyone asking those questions, but I’ve seen no one come up with what I think are the right answers.

In the case of Iraq, the answer to the question of success is, we just don’t know yet.  Lots of people argue for and against, but the reality is, it’s just far too early to tell.  The reason being; the variables are so diverse and complex that it’s going to take a notable pendulum shift for the outcome to be revealed, and we haven’t had that yet.  There have been big changes in Iraq – but those changes have made things better for many of its citizens and worse for many others.  That’s why when you hear from people who actually live in Iraq (people who have lived there throughout the entire passage of time), you’ll find they are divided in opinion, with a great many more feeling unsure. 

I personally think that with the benefit of longer term considerations and the luxury of lengthier retrospective analysis we will begin to see that the removal of the sadistic dictator Saddam Hussein was one of the catalysts for improvement for the Iraqi citizens– but only more time will give a real indication of this.  It might be the case that the people who most benefit from the invasion haven’t even been born yet –but that is how history must be viewed.  Viewing it any other way is usually (although not always) hasty and frivolous, because when it comes to the planting of fruit trees, at the national level most epoch-changing events take a long time for the fruit to be visible.

Now, regarding the question of whether the Government members’ intentions were wise in the first place – from what I can gather from the continuous rhetoric of Bush and Blair, and more recently, David Cameron, I’d say no, they were misjudged.  The reason for their misjudgement appears to me to rest on not understanding how to achieve their aims – which have always been civil liberty for the citizens under the priority of democracy.  What they should have focused on is economic freedom – that is a much more reliable tool for emancipation. 

Now liberty and democracy are nice things to have – but compared to economic freedom they fall short when it comes to helping people out of quagmires.  India is the world’s largest democracy, and there are plenty of civil liberties there, but it is stricken with some of the worst poverty in the world.  Honk Kong’s institutions are much less democratic than those of India, but it is one of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous countries.  Singapore is politically repressive when compared to some of the freer democracies, but it is more economically prosperous than many of them.  So a nation’s civil liberty and democracy aren’t always good indicators.

When the likes of Bush, Blair and Cameron talk about ‘nation building’ they only seem to mean things like “Giving the citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan the ability to vote”.  I’d like to think differently of them, but whenever I see them talking of the success of Iraq, they usually measure it by the fact that its citizens are now voting in free elections.  This success won’t last long if that is the only true measure, because free elections in quagmires are only likely to disenchant once the novelty wears off.  However, free elections in countries with economic freedom are elections worth having. 

While it is true that political freedom and per capita income are closely linked, we’ve seen above that it is not true in all cases – and even in the high end cases, the economic freedom is much more of a prominent factor than political freedom. When you live in a country with free trade, healthy imports/exports, high employment, sensible and equitable Government spending, the repeal of artificial price controls, more moderate marginal tax rates, and monetary policy stability, you find you usually have a nation with a good legal system, cultural plurality, reasonably proficient welfare systems (these things are usually only reasonably proficient), lower tariffs, human rights, property rights, family rights, freer citizens, and a greater sense of care and regard for your global community. 

The fact is that very little the West has done in Iraq and Afghanistan has made this scenario conducive.  At best they have helped nudge in more democratic systems which may or may not last, but which hopefully will in the future lead to the things I mentioned.  Sadly, they’ve taken a slow route by getting their priorities wrong.  Their ‘nation-building’ ideology was misjudged; they should have worked out how to nudge in economy-building rather than nation-building (where nation-building = democracy building), because the only way to build a nation properly is to have its citizens economically free and prosperous.  In almost all cases, citizens with an economically free and prosperous country to uphold won’t need military intervention from the outside, because they will care enough about, and have enough invested in, that country to work very hard to see to it that individual rights, equal opportunities, jurisprudence, civil law and order, cultural and religious plurality, and democratic feeling will prevail.