The country Iraq resembles most right now is…

Since the removal of Saddam Iraq has been compared to several different countries in order to put the situation there in context. Most named post-WW II Germany and/or Japan, while some others came up with South Korea just after the Korean war. I don’t think that these comparisons really fit, for a number of reasons, and for my own part nominate South Africa as the closest if by no means perfect fit:

– Iraq and South Africa alike are basically are Third World countries with some modern parts

– both countries were ruled by privileged minorities, and denied freedom and rule of law to the vast majority, with the predictable consequence of widespread lawlessness

– the population of Iraq and South Africa is mostly very young, which unfortunately means that they have to accept a pretty high baseline of violence, for the number of teenage boys and men in their twenties is one of the most important indicators of violent crime.

– both are in transition, especially as their institutions are concerned, which makes it harder than it otherwise would be to impose rule of law

– the population of both countries is made up by rivalling ethnic groups and of roughly the same size

I think that compared to these similarities the religious affiliation of their respective populations is quite irrelevant. For example, the behavior of the inhabitants of the slums of Djakarta, Durban or Calcutta very likely would not differ all that much from that of those of Sadr-City in Baghdad, given a large foreign force within shooting range, and with extremists agitating among them and handing out weapons.

What is different with Iraq is that the members of the former power-structure are actively attacking the new government and its supporters, something which even the most aggressive Afrikaaners aren’t doing. South Africa also doesn’t have to cope with large numbers of foreign intruders. Furthermore, when the holdover Baathists aren’t busy committing massacres they continue their ‘work’ in organized crime, just as they effectively did under Saddam as godfather. This is a problem, but a much less serious one than life under Saddam was for ordinary Iraqis, for any member of the Baathist power structure could have them killed, take their property and/or wive and daughters at whim. Compared to that the current risk of becoming a victim of terrorism is definitively easier to bear. Iraq doesn’t look pretty right now, but if South Africa’s problems were reported the same way as Iraq’s the result would look at least as apocalyptic, and yet the situation in that country has been improving slowly but surely since the ANC became the government, an organization that initially was a lot less promising that the current crop of Iraqi politicians.

It is going to be a pretty hard slog until Iraq can become by Western standards a prosperous country enjoying rule of law, but the standards of the Arab world are so low that it won’t be long until it is going to look very good in comparison to the other countries in the region. No matter how much they might hate the idea of having America transforming the region, educated Arab will find it very hard to resist the open expression and exchange of ideas in the country. This is going to offer them an alternative to joining Islamist organizations if they want to oppose their own dictatorial regimes at home. Al Queda, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt etc mostly recruit their members from the swelling ranks of frustrated academics, after all. A free and democratic Iraq will be at least an refuge for them, and at best an example to emulate.

With this perspective for a better future in mind the current problems don’t look all that bad and intractable.

4 thoughts on “The country Iraq resembles most right now is…”

  1. I’d offer 1944-45 Italy as a better candidate. It was trying to form a democratic government to succeed Mussolini (and the previous monarchy) while the Nazis & Mussolini fought the 10th Mountain Division in some of the most bitter combat in Europe.

  2. Ralf, I suspect you’re not getting many comments on this because there’s very little to argue with. It’s very well written and reasoned.

    I believe one of the most difficult problems we’re facing in Iraq is the willingness of neighboring countries to fund and supply the baathists and insurgents. This was not something we had to contend with in Afghanistan and has made this far, far harder and bloodier than it otherwise would have been.

    I believe Syria will be perfectly happy to turn Iraq into another Lebanon rather than see a democratic state emerge.

  3. I think a crucial difference though is size:- South Africa accounts for something like half of sub-Saharan GDP and its standard of living is substantially higher than most of its neighbors (hence the large illegal immigration problem). Iraq by contrast is both poorer and much smaller than most of its neighbors (e.g. Turkey Iran). And I think this fuels a certain “small man” belligerence in Iraq while South Africa can be, politically much more self assured.

  4. Michael is correct. My only question is to ask why Calcutta was included. Is the caste system being referenced and is it still that big of a problem?

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