Tom Ricks’ perspective on Iraq’s future is enough to make anyone need a Prozac. As he noted in his recent lecture at the University of Kentucky, none of the major issues underlying tensions in Iraq have been resolved. There is no oil law. There is a scary sectarianism that threatens to tear apart a very fragile societal fabric. In his perspective, the upcoming (March 7, 2010) Iraqi elections are possibly the catalyst that will undo whatever “progress” the U.S. has made over the last few years. What’s more, in his mind, if Iraq’s major problems are not solved (and he thinks they won’t be) AND the U.S. pulls its troops out on schedule, Iraq is likely in for a civil war that could spawn a regional bloodbath. Goodbye “stable” functioning Iraqi democracy, hello massive death tolls and---- $10.00 gasoline----- and (maybe just maybe) a new Great Depression.
Need that Prozac?
There is no question that Ricks’ ideas should be taken very, very, seriously (also see his blog). Few people have his level of experience, access, and insight. However, there are reasons to give your psychiatrist pause over his prescription pad.
For example, Mr. Ricks, to his extreme credit, recently had Nir Rosen write a guest post for his blog on ForeignPolicy.com. Mr. Rosen paints a considerably rosier picture of Iraq. In his post, Rosen notes that he has little to no use for the hysterics in the international media (or lack of) about an unraveling in Iraq. After an extended stay in Iraq, in which he traveled widely and (ohmygawd!) at night, Mr. Rosen returned and could only complain about his time spent in traffic. In his estimation, Iraqis appear to have no stomach for sectarianism or hyper religious political parties. Critically (and interestingly), he found widespread support and praise for the Iraqi Security Forces among the Iraqi populace no matter how far flung or “shitty” the village he traveled to.
Besides Mr. Rosen’s anecdotes, there are other bits of evidence that, together, begin to make a compelling case against medicating yourself over Iraq’s problems. The New York Times recently published a series of fascinating reports about Iraqi grassroots democracy. One piece reported a political debate held in an East Baghdad barber shop. The folks inside (Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd, mind you) were debating exactly how George W. Bush should be remembered. They went on to bicker over who is best suited to be the next Prime Minister. No consensus emerged, but one fellow insisted it should be Ahmed Chalabi because he wanted someone with a strong grasp of economics.
Another piece reported that political campaign classes have sprouted up across the country to teach people the basics of running a campaign. The report suggests that up to 40% of the candidates registered for the upcoming elections have participated. Amusingly, most candidates are having a hard time grasping the unpleasantness of mudslinging.
They’ll understand when they’re (democratically) older.
Clearly these points are mere anecdotes. However, they each (and many others like them) convey the sense that Iraqis want change they can believe in. As Tom Friedman recently noted, time will tell if the Iraqis can surprise us. My money says these folks are headed for a brighter future than Tom Ricks believes. The upcoming elections are nothing to fear.
Hold the Prozac.