Tuesday, October 12, 2004

One Election Down...

I wrote earlier to congratulate Afghanistan on having a reasonably successful presidential election. Matthew Yglesias writes on why Afghanistan has proven itself to be so much more successful in this regard than Iraq. Daniel Drezner adds his own thoughts, including the observation that Iraq has oil wealth. On this point, John Judis wrote a brilliant article way back on March 31st, 2003 for The New Republic(subscription only). Excerpt:
After the colonial powers departed at the end of World War II, oil provided the newly independent governments of the Middle East a veritable windfall--either through concessions or later through outright ownership of their country's oil facilities. With their new income, the states' kings, emirs, and sheiks were no longer dependent on their countries' merchants or workers for tax income. They could finance their governments entirely out of oil revenues. They could also use these oil revenues to buy off the citizenry through social-welfare systems, state jobs, land grants, and lucrative contracts. Their citizens became passive recipients of government largesse--paying no taxes and receiving no representation.
In the Middle East, oil wealth provided a shortcut around the centuries-old transition from feudalism to capitalism and from absolutism to democracy that had taken place in Western Europe. The oil states did not have to endure the privations of what Karl Marx called the "primitive accumulation of capital." They didn't have to coerce peasants to leave their land to become impoverished wage-laborers in order to provide profit margins for fledgling entrepreneurs. They didn't have to extract taxes from a reluctant population. And they didn't have to grant democratic rights to a citizenry that grew increasingly restive under these demands. Because of its oil wealth, Libya could go from one of the poorest countries in the world, with a per capita income of $50 in 1960, to one of the well-to-do, with a per capita income of $2000 just a decade later, without exacting sacrifice from its people. Lost in this developmental shortcut, however, was the creation of an active citizenry, a thriving civil society, and a democratic political system.

One more thing of note: Yglesias credits at least part of Afghanistan's success to Zalmay Khalizad's talent as proconsul. I have no reason to doubt that Khalizad is a very talented diplomat. Indeed, the success we've had in Afghanistan seems to attest to his skill. However, there is at least some irony in having Khalizad as our ambassador to a nation we invaded and took over by force (along with having John Negroponte as our ambassador to Iraq). Most people have never heard of Khalizad, but he is virtually a household name amongst Policy debaters as the single best author in favor of a strong US Hegemony. Indeed, his article even made my list of good hegemony arguments back in the early days of the blog. Having a vociferious advocate for unrestrained US power (though to be fair, Khalizad wants us to be a "benevolent hegemony") in charge of one of the countries the US is currently occupying, while we are trying to convince the world we are NOT on an imperial mission, strikes me as somewhat unwise.

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