Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Peace in Iraq

David Brooks broadens our understanding of this topic in today's New York Times. Here are the first several paragraphs:

The U.S. brought no shortage of misconceptions into Iraq, but surely the longest lasting has been what you might call: Founding Fatherism. This is the belief that peace will come to the country when the nation’s political elites gather at a convention hall and make a series of grand compromises involving power-sharing and a new constitution.

The Bush administration has been pushing the Iraqis to make this sort of grand compromise for years — to little effect. The Democrats happily declare that there has been no political progress in Iraq because this grand compromise is the only kind of political progress they can conceive of.

As Philip Carl Salzman argues in “Culture and Conflict in the Middle East” (brilliantly reviewed by Stanley Kurtz in The Weekly Standard), many Middle Eastern societies are tribal. The most salient structure is the local lineage group. National leaders do not make giant sacrifices on behalf of the nation because their higher loyalty is to the sect or clan. Order is achieved not by the top-down imposition of abstract law. Instead, order is achieved through fluid balance of power agreements between local groups.

In a society like this, political progress takes different forms. It’s not top down. It’s bottom up. And this is exactly the sort of progress we are seeing in Iraq. While the Green Zone politicians have taken advantage of the surge by trying to entrench their own power, things are happening at the grass-roots.

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