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America's Iraq plight: old and new thinking

About the author

Mary Kaldor is Professor of Global Governance and Director of the Civil Society and Human Security Research Unit at the London School of Economics.

Michael Lind, in his openDemocracy article "What next? US foreign policy after Bush" (12 February 2007), argues that there needs to be a global level of negotiations about Iraq, as though this were a great discovery. He says that George W Bush is following an Iraq-only strategy and that James A Baker (in the Iraq Study Group report) is proposing a regional-level strategy. Yet both stress the need to involve the global players. The difference between Bush and Baker is that Bush has an old-fashioned cold-war attitude towards the global players, believing that geopolitical confrontation is the best approach, while Baker emphasises a multilateralist grand bargain - rather, as it happens, like Lind himself.

Mary Kaldor is a professor, and director of the Centre for the Study of Global Governance, at the London School of Economics

Mary Kaldor is responding to the article by Michael Lind:

"What next? US foreign policy after Bush"
(12 February 2007)

For anyone who follows the complex, interrelated political economy of violence in Iraq, the need for a multilayered, multifaceted solution is obvious. There are several conflicts going on - the resistance against the occupation; the Sunni-Shi‘a sectarian war; the conflict between those inside the "green zone" and those outside it; not to mention a range of criminal activities like looting and kidnapping undertaken for purely economic reasons. Moreover, these conflicts are compounded by global conflicts - the "war on terror", the clash of civilisations, the struggle for oil.

The problem with Michael Lind's solution is not that it is too complicated, as he himself suggests, but that it is too simple. It presupposes a world of states, in which people hardly seem to exist, and where states are capable, either in competition or in cooperation, of resolving deeply rooted social problems such as wars.

At the core of the Iraqi tragedy has been the destruction of the state - as a legacy of Saddam Hussein's rule, the experience of war, and the impact of sanctions, and as a result of the US invasion and the subsequent dismantling of powerful institutions like the army and the Ba'ath party. None of the three strategies outlined by Lind (Iraq-only, regional or global) can put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

The Bush strategy presupposes that the current hollow state structures can be reinforced by a "surge" and that the involvement of neighbouring states (such as Iran and Syria) can be constrained by bullying. The Baker strategy as outlined by Lind - and which actually is more sophisticated than he describes - presupposes that neighbouring states can have a decisive influence on the warring parties. And the Lind strategy presupposes that global powers are truly powerful and can have a decisive influence on lesser players.

But in a globalised world, multidirectional local, regional and global relationships exist at all levels of society, and what states alone can achieve is much more limited than these solutions imply. What is needed in Iraq is a human-security approach, not a state-security approach. This means that the goal has to be the security (both physical and material) of individuals and communities, and that this is most likely to be achieved through the establishment of a legitimate political authority capable of upholding a rule of law.

On the one hand, there needs to be an inclusive political process, involving not only the current political actors in Iraq but also those who have been excluded from the political process so far - professionals, women's groups, human-rights groups, think-tanks, independent intellectuals and artists - as well as regional and global actors.

On the other hand, there need to be efforts inside Iraq to increase the safety of individuals and communities so as to provide the space to be engaged in a dialogue without fear. Up to now, coalition forces have protected themselves and the minimal state structures, not the Iraqi people. Bush claims that protecting people is the purpose of his "surge". This cannot succeed, however, because coalition forces are discredited; they remain the main targets of attack and a majority of Iraqis consider those attacks legitimate. So there need to be proposals for an international intervention as well, linked moreover to a credible reconstruction programme that could weaken the economic incentives for violence.

Also by Mary Kaldor in opendemocracy:

"In place of war, open up Iraq"
(13 February 2003)

"Iraq: a war like no other" (27 March 2003)

"Iraq – the democratic option"
(13 November 2003)

"Safe democracy"
(23 December 2004)

"Parallel politics in Iraq" (22 March 2005) – with Yahia Said

"Iraq: the wrong war" (9 June 2005)

In other words, Lind's arguments about the involvement of Russia and China or the need for cooperative multilateralist approaches rather than confrontational geopolitical ones are obvious enough. But what his essay illustrates is the parochialism of contemporary American scholarship. He perceives the Iraq war as an old-fashioned international-relations war game - even using the analogy of three-dimensional chess. He seems unaware of the globalisation literature, the debates about the character of multilateralism, or the problems of weak states. Even his case for a more cooperative approach only deals with the great powers; the role of the United Nations or the European Union as new multilateral actors is ignored.

Neither does Lind seem able to grasp the need to analyse the modalities of power at all levels or to understand the social relationships that underpin power. What is happening now in Iraq is surely evidence of the shortcomings of the realist way of thinking about strategy. Should we not be developing new approaches, ones which focus on the individual rather than the state?


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