Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

Site Meter This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Friday, August 23, 2002
There's a lively debate going on over whether there will be a Hashemite restoration in Iraq, and whether doing so would be a good idea or not. (See, for example, here for the case that it may be in the planning, here for case that it would be a good idea, and here for the case against.) I think it's worth stepping back a bit to examine the key questions, which get conflated in much of the discussion.

What is the purpose of a king? We in the United States, the world's longest-lived republic (Q: is that right? was Switzerland a republic before 1874?), have a natural aversion to monarchy. But monarchy is the most enduring form of governance on the planet, with a far more successful history than self-government. Stable republican government is harder to achieve for two reasons. First, in a republic, the people rule. For the people, a heterogeneous mass, to rule, they need to think of themselves as a collective. This is not so hard in a small territory like Athens or Venice, but much more difficult in a larger territory or with a population that divided into distinct ethnic, class or religious groups. The United States is virtually unique in having crafted such an effective unum out of our pluribus, and we have the genius of James Madison to thank for it more than anyone. In any event, for a country like Iraq to operate as a republic, the people must think of themselves collectively as Iraqis, and it is not obvious that this is the case; they may think of themselves as Arabs, Kurds or Turkmens - or Sunnis or Shiites - before they think of themselves as Iraqis. Second, a republic can only be maintained by a patriotic elite that has the people's allegiance - a natural aristocracy, in Jefferson's terms, to replace the hereditary aristocracy of monarchical regimes. Does such an elite exist in Iraq? It seems unlikely.

In the absence of these things - an authentic nationalism and a natural aristocracy recognized as such by the people - a republic is likely to flounder. When it flounders, one or another class or group will act to seize power - either to destroy or to protect the republic. The three most common variants of the above are: party dictatorship, military coup and ethnic civil war. (These are not mutually exclusive.) The brief Russian and Chinese republics were ended when Communist parties seized power; the Weimar Republic ended when the Nazis seized power; the broad-based Iranian revolution and the republic it inaugurated was very quickly transformed into a one-party clerical dictatorship. In Egypt, Iraq and Syria, one-party dictatorship was the outgrowth of a military coup. By contrast, in Turkey, the military has a defined constitutional role as protector of the republic; if regular democratic processes appear to threaten the longevity of that republic and its constitution, the military is supposed to step in. This is also how the military saw its role in the Chilean, Argentine and Uruguayan military dictatorships.

The monarch, as symbol of the nation, provides a prop to a less-than-robust sense of national identity. A people divided in many ways, unused to thinking of itself in collective terms, may nonetheless agree on a shared allegiance to a single man and his family. While a monarch may be capricious and corrupt, he is also less likely to operate completely without a check on his power than are the military or a single dictatorial party, because there are, in most cultures, old traditions that structure a monarch's power - and, moreover, a monarch rules by the power of deference and tradition, and therefore will perforce have to defer to some extent to other kinds of traditional authority, lest he undermine the basis of his own rule. This is not the case for the military, who typically rule in the name of national emergency, which would justify virtually any extremity, or a dictatorial party, which typically rules in the name of an absolutist ideology that happily uproots all other forms of authority before it.

For a monarch to function this way, however, these sources of authority - traditional deference and a natural relationship with other local traditional authorities - must also exist. Is this the case with the Hashemites in Iraq? Probably not. The Hashemites are revered by the Bedouin who are the dominant group in much of Jordan (though a minority of the total population, due to the large Palestinian Arab population in and around Amman). But they have no natural base of support in Iraq. Prince Hassan, if installed as king by a conquering American army, would be legitimate not because of his own claims but because of the power of that army.

But then, this would be the case for a republic as well, or for any other government installed in Iraq. Before we go in, we should get this through our heads: Iraq has no legitimacy as a nation, and therefore any state will be illegitimate. The current one-party dictatorship rules on the basis of terror. It has no legitimacy. The various military regimes that followed the fall of the Hashemite dynasty did the same. The Hashemites ruled by the blessing of Great Britain. Before that, Iraq was under the thumb of the Turkish Empire for centuries. For much of its history before that, Iraq has been under the thumb of various Persian empires. There's not a lot of history of Iraqi self-government, including indigenous monarchy, and little sign of national self-consciousness.

So I would have to argue that our supporter and our critic of the idea of monarchy for Iraq are over-stating the case. To the critic, it is anathema to get involved in "colonial" adventures choosing the government of other countries. But how, then, is war with an enemy like Iraq to be pursued? Take it as a given that Saddam Hussein's regime is a threat to America. How are we to address it? We will have no choice but to install a government in Iraq; we will be there, and our troops will be the power behind whatever government takes shape. I don't think that's colonialism; we're not interested in settling Iraq with Americans or stealing its resources. But it is a fairly extreme form of intervention in the internal affairs of another country, and I don't see an alternative to it. Our supporter of monarchy, meanwhile, vastly overstates the potential benefit of a Hashemite king. How great a force was Hussein of Jordan for a "liberal Islam" after all? And he, having the strong support of a major ethnic group in his country and having survived many challenges to his rule, was, by the end, far more legitimate than his brother, Hassan, could ever be as king of Iraq.

Iraq is going to be an enormous mess after we conquer it. We will be taking care of it for decades. It will be a much uglier job than the reconstruction of Germany or Japan. We have got to get used to this fact, and not expect a quick trip home for the boys right after the war. Iraq has a large middle class that is well-educated and largely unaffected by radical Islam. It has potential. But it is not a nation, and no one knows how to build a nation. More likely than not, we will know we have succeeded in our task when the Iraqis, without violence, vote to throw us out of their country some decades hence, as the Filipinos did in the 1990s.