Friday, February 8, 2008

The New Path to Victory

The Pentagon is revising its plan for "winning" military engagements around the world. An important part of the new plan is politics: "The most important tasks we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan are building host-nation institutions, including security forces and governance. We need to attract the very best officers into these specialties to be successful at these tasks,” said LTC Yingling, a vocal internal critic of current tactics. The generals for their part are listening to some of the discussion: I would propose that more discussion is needed, because there is little evidence that strong governance and democratic institutions can lead to moderation, compromise and economic freedom.

One thing that is clear is that a military presence is insufficient in ensuring that the Iraqi and Afghani people are able to support themselves. This has lead to the conclusion that a political solution is needed. It is argued that political freedom and democracy are a necessary condition for stability and prosperity in the long run. But, while this may the case, basic economic needs must be met. Our experience with "transition projects" such as those undertaken in Eastern Europe have shown that democratic institutions in the absence of economic opportunities in the private sector fall flat on their face. In short, people could give a damn about democracy if they feel that the result will fail to provide them with the opportunity of the "pursuit of happiness." Corruption and ethnic divisiveness all qualify as examples of things that can erode these opportunities. Furthermore, oil profits and other assets of the state emerge as focal points of infighting which democracy cannot solve by itself. What is needed is a strong judiciary, which is fair and blind to race, ethnicity, or politics, and this takes time to develop.

I fear that the plan that may result will resemble the strategies brought to Russia (which our Washington Consensus fouled up roally) rather than the slower grassroots approach taken by Hungary, but it may be too late. The disintegration of the rule of law, as well as the laws themselves has left a vacuum that cannot allow the much-needed private economy air to breathe.