Hoisted from Comments: Dean Baker on Sources of Today's Great Fortunes
Ze'ev Shiffrin on How Observing the Laws of War Is Good Strategic Practice

Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Morons?

At least twice a day, I find myself thinking about the Bushies, "They can't be this stupid and this shortsighted."

Yes they can:

Balkinization: Hobbes on the Euphrates: Scott Horton: Back in April, I found myself in Baghdad across the table from one of the nation's most prominent judges. A man with a reputation for integrity and independence, he had resigned from the bench rather than implement a cruel set of directives issued by Saddam Hussein. He suffered and was forced into a marginal existence thereafter. The Coalition forces, noting the respect his name commanded, tapped him for a particularly sensitive role, which he has held ever since. Since judges are killed at the rate of one-per-week in Iraq, however, I am going to refrain from using his name.

In a wide ranging discussion, he came very quickly to talk about the occupation and its shortcomings.

We despised Saddam Hussein, and his overthrow raised such wonderful possibilities for Iraq. But how could a country like the United States behave so stupidly as it did in those first crucial months? Saddam was a nightmare. But our country had a strong state with secular traditions. That needed to be preserved at all costs. Instead the Americans smashed that state. What did they expect Iraqis would do? It sent people scurrying back to the basic building blocks of our society, which are the clans and tribes. People turned to them for basic self-protection, not because of any political conviction. And this has led directly to the social disintegration we have today. The choices that the coalition took had consequences. You destroyed the state and you failed to put order in its place. You created chaos, in other words. And now we have to try to live with the consequences of the coalition's decisions.

These comments dovetailed with a "lessons learned" analysis I understand was done within the Department of Defense. As a part of the review, a "lack of cultural awareness" of Iraqi society was repeatedly cited. A DOD anthropologist notes that many of the most serious mistakes made in the early phase of the occupation relate to a misunderstanding of the consequences of the fall of the state. Just as my interlocutor noted, the people turned immediately to family ties for protection.

Surely political scientists already know this. The first chapters of Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan reflect exactly the points that the Iraqi judge was making. With the collapse of the state and with no new order to replace it, Iraq fell into the war "of all against all." Hobbes wrote,

During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man.... To this war of every man against every man, this also in consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues. (ch. 13).

Put differently, the occupation heralded by the capture of Baghdad lacked the essential characteristic of an occupation - namely a new order. Hence, in Hobbesian terms, it was that form of war which encompasses the natural state of man.In the August issue of Harper's, Ken Silverstein probes more deeply into this process of social disintegration. He takes as his vehicle the rise of one particularly powerful, but shadowy figure in the current Iraqi Government: Bayan Jabr, the current minister of finance. Silverstein dubs him the "Minister of Civil War." This article is fascinating and it offers an unusual glimpse deep inside the transformative process in Iraq that coincided with the "rule" of the Coalition Provisional Authority. This was a period which combined immense attention to public relations with Western media with an excruciatingly poor grip on the cancer that was developing in Iraq. The article is a must-read.