Sunday, June 15, 2014

That Was Predictable

Way back in 2003 when the United States invaded Iraq (long before the Afghanistan mess had been anything close to resolved), I remember having a conversation in which I said that within 5 years of the US withdrawal from Iraq, that the country would founder in civil war.  (I believe much the same thing will inevitably happen in Afghanistan as well)

This week, we have seen the "insurgency" in Iraq transform from a few disorganized groups into a coherent military force not to be trifled with.

Anybody who is surprised by this hasn't been paying close attention since 2001.  The US military may have overthrown the local governments, but groups like al Qaeda, the Taliban and others still exist.  They may have "gone to ground", but make no mistake, they continue to operate and organize. These groups don't disappear magically because of a 5 year long military occupation.  (or even a decade)

If there is a single lesson to be taken from the last decade's worth of interventions in the Middle East it is this:  There are no short term interventions which will create a stable, long lasting democracy in that region.

There are thousands of reasons for this.  The Roman Empire is filled with examples of how even relatively long term direct interventions can fail to instil the sense of cultural trust required for a foreign culture to be willing to adopt the occupiers' desired form of government.  It takes decades, if not longer to build that kind of trust - especially when you arrived with hell at your back to begin with.

Second, where a western styled democracy is concerned, there is an enormous amount of cultural structures that must be in place before it has any chance of long term success.  The people must trust the idea of law as a just and reasonable thing, that justice is somehow apart from the notion of revenge, that the government will respect the rights of individuals and so on.  (I will, for the sake of this essay ignore the egregious violations of this trust in the last decade by governments in the western world ... that is another discussion for another day)

A people that has been subjugated by iron-fisted dictators like Saddam Hussein, or religious fanatics like the Taliban, will not have this trust.  The idea of walking down the street and being safe from the intrusion of government authority cannot exist under these circumstances.  Military occupation is similarly troublesome for similar reasons.  The authority is held not at the will of the people but by the force of arms and the threat of violence to the person.

For those of us who live in Canada, we can trace the evolution of our understanding of law as apart from politics, government as an agent good overall back through the history of England, from the retreat of the Roman Empire from the region, through the Dark Ages and the signing of the Magna Carta to the modern era in which the Monarchy exists more as a figurehead than anything else.

There is a long, gradual process of change that took place, during which the powers of the monarchy grew at first, and gradually ebbed away over time.  The Magna Carta represents the beginning of the real limits on the Monarchy, taking away the ability of England's Monarchs to act as capriciously as they had previously.  It created the idea of the Monarchy as limited in its powers and authority, and the idea of parliament as a guide to the Monarch.

Over the next several hundred years, the powers held by the Monarchy gradually devolved to the parliament, and in particular to the House of Commons.

If it took western societies the better part of a full millennia to evolve into the stable democracies we have today, we must recognize that the process did not take place in a vacuum of changing government, but rather the entire fabric of society changed along with it, enabling the government to become what was needed.  It would be foolish indeed to believe that a similar government can be created and imposed at gunpoint over the course of a little more than a decade.

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