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Jewish World Review April 8, 2003 / 6 Nisan, 5763

Michael Barone

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After the fighting, democracy |
Rapidly, decisions are being made about the governance of postwar Iraq. While debate rages in the press and in Congress, George W. Bush has decided that the United States, not the United Nations, and the Defense Department, not the State Department, will be in charge of Iraq once hostilities have been concluded.

Last Wednesday, Colin Powell informed the European foreign ministers that the United Nations would not be in charge. Also on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that Donald Rumsfeld had rejected eight State Department nominees for positions in postwar Iraq. On Thursday U.S. News broke the story that Rumsfeld had sent two memos to the president urging immediate recognition of a provisional Iraqi government, presumably including leaders of the pro-democracy Iraqi National Congress. On Friday, it was reported that Rumsfeld was offering positions to two Clinton appointees, James Woolsey and Walter Slocombe.

All this suggests that President Bush has decided to follow through on his promise to create a democratic, peaceful Iraq. And that he is rejecting the advice of the State Department's Near Eastern Bureau, which is used to working with Arab tyrants of various stripes and is dedicated to "stability in the Middle East"--the same stability that gave us September 11. State wants to install an authoritarian leader acceptable to the Arab tyrants who deflect popular dissatisfaction with their rule by directing their people's hostility to the United States and Israel.

Defense has a better idea. Retired Gen. Jay Garner, who worked with Kurds in northern Iraq in 1991, will lead the Office of Reconstruc-tion and Humanitarian Assistance. "We're here to do the job of liberating [Iraqis]," he says, "of providing them with a form of government that will represent the freely elected will of the people."

"Nonnegotiable demands." Rumsfeld's proposal to install a provisional government may or may not be approved immediately, but the very proposal suggests that one will be installed soon. It is vitally important that it include the leaders of the Iraqi National Congress, who are committed not just to electoral democracy but to the principles of liberty, without which elections simply produce what Fareed Zakiria in his just published Future of Freedom calls "illiberal democracy." Those principles were set out by Bush in his January 2002 State of the Union speech as "the nonnegotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the power of the state; respect for women; private property; free speech; equal justice; and religious tolerance."

This means establishing independent courts to enforce contracts and punish crimes. It means enforcing laws guaranteeing respect for women. It means preventing violent reprisals against Saddam Hussein's thugs and conducting war-crimes trials. It means protecting the rights of a free press and letting al Jazeera broadcast what Iraqis think about their old and new regimes.

What about private property? Administration officials have often said that reconstruction of Iraq will be affordable because of the nation's oil revenues and emphasize that that money belongs to the Iraqi people. But there seems to be an assumption that all the revenues should go to the Iraqi government. Why not give some of that money directly to the people? In the New Republic, John Judis points out that oil wealth in almost every country has produced an overlarge and corrupt state apparatus and has hindered the development of a vigorous private sector and civil society.

There are alternatives.

The Alaska Permanent Fund each year pays a dividend of 20 percent of the state's oil profits to every citizen--$1,540 per person in 2002. The rest of the money is invested, to provide a permanent income when oil revenues decline. Alaskans regard this as personal wealth; in 1999, 83 percent of Alaska voters rejected a proposal to use Permanent Fund revenues for state government spending. A similar fund could be created for Iraqis. It could provide a payment of something like $1,000 a year--meaningful in a country where Umm Qasr dockworkers make $30 a month. This would provide every Iraqi with personal wealth and would tend to foster investment and nurture the growth of a private sector. It would give Iraqis a vested stake in the new regime. It would show that the United States has come to liberate Iraq and not to get its oil. And it would be a shining example to the leaders and the people in the other oil states in the region.

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Michael Barone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2002, Michael Barone