The New Iraq
By Joseph Braude(Basic Books, $26, 211 pp.)
While a lot of the smoke in Iraq has cleared, the hard questions of peace and prosperity remain. In the Iraqi streets, unrest continues, with U.S. military personnel playing policemen for a populace still reeling from recent bombardments and a devastated infrastructure. Saddam Hussein may be gone, but Iraqisdealing with a lack of goods and services, harboring understandable suspicions about their U.S. “liberators,” and attempting to heal psychic scars from years of war, internal dissension, global isolation and the disintegration of its middle and professional classesface huge questions about who will lead their country and what kind of nation they will be.
In The New Iraq: Rebuilding the Country for Its People, the Middle East, and the World, Joseph Braude attempts to provide a “panoramic view of the social, political and economic challenges” the country now faces. He also strives to offer Iraqis themselves “a sense of how the world around them...can be an enormous source of support in the rebuilding of their country.” Braude, born into an Iraqi-Jewish family, is a multilinguist (Arabic, Persian, Hebrew) with Ivy League credentials who serves as a business consultant on the Middle East to both governmental agencies and private corporations. His is an articulate, informed voice, and while his hopeful overview of the Iraqi situation may not have all the answers, it certainly provides thoughtful reflection on the character of this ancient land and, in some cases, a conceptual blueprint for its viable overhaul.
No discussion on modern Iraq for the layperson should begin without some essential history, and Braude provides it with authority in two opening sections that profile the “Cradle of Civilization,” with its legacy of high cultureSumerians, Assyrians, Babyloniansand the great rulers Hammurabi and Nebuchadnezzar. He also helpfully delineates the various Islamic factions, with their internecine struggles and history of revolution. Then follows the political history of the last millennium, including vital analysis of 20th century events.
All of this well sets the stage for Braude’s cogent, if sometimes less than directly prescriptive, contemplation on how the rebuilt Iraq might marshal the forces of business, religious culture, entertainment, media and education into a cohesive post-Saddam enterprisethe kind of new regime that world leaders (well, Bush and Tony Blair anyway) are hoping for.
But who will lead the Iraqis? And how? Though Braude’s background would clearly mark him as a pro-democracy capitalist, he ventures no guesses on exactly what system of rule will emerge, and on this count his volume lacks the kind of intellectual speculation that many readers might seek. His book is less a “how-to” and more a theoretical evaluation of Iraqi demographics, the author keeping mindful of the tangled, complex links between religion and politics.
“Muslim clerics should have the chance to aspire to political power in the new Iraq,” Braude writes, “if they trade in the maximalism of the country’s old Islamist parties for a platform of values that all denominations share.” Braude sees a government inclusively considerate of Sunni, Shi’i, Sufi and Kurdish populations, who “must learn to essentialize Islam in their hearts and in their mosques while embracing the broadest definition of religion possible in the corridors of lay authority.”
When Braude speaks of the new “shrewd political leadership” in Iraq, he refuses to predict exactly who that might be, though he does state that such leaders would be charged with “tasking clerics of every sect to play a role as mediators and bridges to help heal society’s rifts.”
Assuming the ulama (Muslim clerics) unify under some general political credo, Braude further predicts potential input from the 4 million Iraqis who now reside outside the country. “The largest concentrations of exiles,” he explains, “correspond to the most disaffected communities inside the country today, and the many who have achieved success in their new host countries have a chance to support the ambitions of their families back home.” These exile communities in Jordan, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and various Western nations comprise educated and skilled workers, including university professors, doctors, engineers, computer specialists and architects. “Iraqis who are now pondering whether to return from years, even decades, of exile,” writes Braude, “will learn from this book how important a role they have to play.” Again, this hope makes up a part of Braude’s best-case prognosticating. It remains to be seen whether prosperous Iraqi nationals will revisit their homeland with the idea of taking up permanent residence.
The big-ticket item in rebuilding this nation of 24 million is business and labor. Braude offers both realistic assessments and some cautions. “Most of Iraq’s industries,” he states, “require injections of capital to rebuild before they can start hiring again. Oil and geopolitical maneuvers must be offset against the country’s burgeoning debt before black gold can start yielding for Iraq’s people again.” And the old ways of doing business also need to be overhauled: “The highest levels of Iraqi business that centrally control the major industries are chronically nepotistic, making the logic of balance sheets secondary in importance in their calculations to cash earned under the table.”
No doubt, countries like France and Germanywhich were enjoying positive trade relations with Saddam’s regime before his ousterwill cast a cynical eye toward notions of profit-and-gain in a revitalized Iraq’s globalization. And even the circumspect U.S. citizen-observer can’t help but raise an eyebrow when Braude states that “less obvious...is the agenda America’s government and democratic allies will seek to advance in the years ahead, or whether competing ideas within these countries will allow a coherent [economic] agenda to emerge at all.” A few things are certain, however: Iraq needs vast improvements in food distribution, water supplies, electricity, hospitals, transportation and social services. “Can Iraq really be rebuilt,” asks the author, “and can that rebuilding be profitable?”
One definite asset Braude is counting on is the Iraqi people, who still constitute “a labor force with skilled workers relative to those of other Arab countries and a developed industrial backbone, which was built to support ongoing war efforts but could quickly and easily be redirected toward major civilian manufacturing.” And here’s an interesting tidbit: Despite his 30 years of thuggish leadership, Saddam was actually known as the “education president,” and Iraqi literacy is at an all-time high.
“Once Iraqis stabilize and liberate their own capacities and infrastructure,” Braude concludes, “they will turn outward. Then the modern standard-bearers of the world’s oldest civilization will use their extraordinary talents as entrepreneurs and facilitators to shine light on knowledge and information gaps all over the Middle East and beyond.”
Braude claims no clairvoyance in The New Iraq, yet his well-rounded, if overly optimistic, treatise is sensibly rendered, leaving the reader with the belief that maybejust maybeOperation Iraqi Freedom might have a happy ending after all. “Transition comes overnight,” writes Braude, “but transformation takes time. It demands that we make peace with the possibility that the changes we hope for may not materialize in our lifetimes.”
Too many reasons
For anyone who believes that U.S. goals in the Iraqi military intervention were suspect, Muslim cultural critic Ziauddin Sardar and Welsh anthropologist Merryl Wyn Davies add some fuel to that fire with Why Do People Hate America? (Disinformation, $12.95, 236 pp.), a readable and vastly interesting profile of America’s global economic and cultural dominance. Their book is not entirely an attackthough there are stern criticisms aplentyso much as it is a reflection of the world’s love/hate relationship with the U.S.A. “Why,” the authors ask, “is the American public, in a country with the world’s most advanced education system and institutions of learning, so exceedingly ignorant of world affairs? They care about their cars, their second homes, about not paying taxes, about low gasoline prices. But why don’t they care about the rest of the world?”
Most simply put, the answer is, we’re self-absorbed. Meanwhile, our world influence is as embraced as it is reviled overseas. The authors dub the U.S. a “hyperpower”the world’s first and onlywhose “McDonaldization” effect on Europe, the Middle East, emerging Asia and the Third World gives rise to contradictory feelings of both admiration and resentment.
We exude arrogance and hypocrisy as well, according to the book. We categorize one country as “evil,” then unleash our military might on another. The U.S. also controls the world’s purse stringsWorld Bank, International Monetary Fund, etc.such that it has structured a global economy “to perpetually enrich itself and reduce non-Western societies to abject poverty.” We claim to be the good guys, yet Sardar and Davies catalog dozens and dozens of examples of covert intelligence and military activities the U.S. has been involved in for decades, from Central America to Africa to Southeast Asia. The authors’ key point is that, in many ways, our country is always engaged in subtleand sometimes blatantly, violently obviousmanipulations in the economies and politics of all world nations.
This is strong stuff, often irrefutably argued. As the authors conclude, “Since America is both the object and the source of global hatred, it must carry the responsibility of moving us all beyond it.”
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