Arnold Kling  

Channeling de Soto in Iraq

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Peter Schaefer writes,


all societies have rules otherwise they would descend into anarchy. And the basis of all consensual laws (as opposed to imposed) is the customary or informal rule-sets that have been evolving with the society. These rule-sets must be rationalized and formalized (and yes, modernized) as a part of creating a true nation, but laws cannot be imposed if one expects them to be observed.

...Once the national law establishes common rules for peoples' property and savings - mainly their homes and businesses - Iraqi citizens can then get about working, saving and doing business with (not killing) one another. There will always be fanatics, but most people with jobs and a shot at a future don't blow themselves up.


It is easy to agree with Schaefer that our approach in Iraq to this point is not working. It is easy to agree that a system of law that emerges from common law is more likely to take hold than a top-down Constitution. However, I am doubtful that the United States can, from the outside, create a common-law environment in Iraq.


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COMMENTS (6 to date)
El Presidente writes:

I agree. In my opinion, that's why Saddam was so stable. His was the only type of government that could subjugate cultures that did not want to assimilate. There was no unified social consciousness. They would have overthrown him themselves if they could agree on what was right and wrong. Persistent democracy is predicated upon some degree of homogeneity in culture, philosophy, material interest, or whatever. Usually a confluence of varied interests with a similar desired outcome produces a democracy. There have to be sufficient commonalities to outweigh the value of insisting upon differences for the vast majority of participants. They are ready to be free (understatement of the decade), but they are not ready to be unified. We have insisted upon unity.

Matt writes:

Partition of the sects is the common law in Iraq.

Brad Hutchings writes:

I'm no longer optimistic about this nation building. I always wondered why we didn't try to bring the things that are quintessentially American over there... Open up a Taco Bell or a KFC or a McDonald's on every city block. Plant seeds of Starbucks all over the place. Play a few exhibition NFL games. Roll out broadband and ship in a million 3 year old computers... Give those people some things to do and maybe they'll spend less time killing each other. Iraq is essentially a state the size of California with the standard of living of Mexico. It shouldn't have been that expensive to adopt it as our little brother for 5-10 years instead of just occupying.

I am still optimistic about our ability to carry out quick regime change. It is unfortunate that in Iraq, if we weren't gonna make America Junior over there, we didn't just topple and capture Sadam and the rest of his deck, and then get out. Yeah, it would have caused turmoil in Iraq and for any country stupid enough to come in and try to solve it. But it would have sent a powerful message to Iran. Don't mess with us because we will clobber your government and leave you people to dominated by whoever has the urge. In their hearts, even the worst despots are strong nationalists. They don't want history to remember them for leading their peoples into sure and total chaos.

Daublin writes:

Let me mention two reasons for hope, and remind everyone of one strategic aspect.

First, the major militias confounding things have been gradually eroding. In particular, al-Zarkawi, the head of Al Qaeda's forces in Iraq, was killed a mere two months ago! These militias have been bad news in the past, and their weakening is good news for the future.

Second, the government structures thus far have worked great. Iraqis are very much taking part in the democratic process. All of the non-foreign powers in the country have been run for office, elections are going off regularly, the public is voting, coalitions are forming and adjusting, and it is elected, *Iraqi* officials who set the law and policy. The government is not everything (big-government fans, pay attention to Iraq!), but it is surely a good kernel to start from, and that kernel has so far held strong.


Finally, don't forget that failure in Iraq means that Al Qaeda and Iran will free their resources for attacks elsewhere in the world. We can fight them there, or we can fight them here.

I believe the above three aspects are enough reason to continue foreign involvement in defending Iraq's democracy. In the long term, dictators are bad for the world, not just their own populations, and I believe that a democratic government will work out its kinks if it is upheld for sufficient time. In the short term, forces like Al Qaeda and the Ayatollah should be opposed, because they will not stop with winning Iraq.

Dain writes:

People with a shot at a future don't blow themselves up? Mohammad Atta would disagree.

Kevin writes:

Yes, of course, better we fight them there than here, or say, London or Madrid. Time for optimism is so far past at this point. Yes, ship them 3 yr old computer that will only worsen the situation by putting even more strain on their overloaded power system. Iraq is a complete failure, it's just a matter of time before we realize that now.

And I'm sure the milita aren't eroding either. When US troops get killed by the people they train and when guns we give them end up in the milita's hands, that's not really a sign things are getting better. How many second in commands have we killed at this point? Seems like one every 3 months. Government working great? Aren't they talking about sacking the current government and starting over?

Iraq was a failure from the start, and those of us who said so on Sept.11, 2001 are being proven correct.

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