Think tanks wrap-up

May 5, 2003 at 5:09 PM
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WASHINGTON, May 5 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the first of two wrap-ups for May 2. Contents: Two views on plans for post-war Iraq government; wisdom of the tax cut.

The Heritage Foundation

WASHINGTON -- Democracy, federalism, and realism in postwar Iraq

By James A. Phillips

The United States scored a decisive military victory in Iraq, but building a stable, democratic, pro-American Iraqi government will be more difficult than winning the war.

To accomplish its postwar goals, the United States will have to overcome the resistance of hostile Iraqi political forces, referee the deadly factional struggles of bitter political rivals, and minimize the meddling of Syria and Iran, both of which seek to hijack Iraq's political future and drive out American influence. Building a stable democracy under these conditions will be a complex long-term challenge.

The Bush administration has wisely pledged to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis as soon as possible to minimize the risks of an anti-American backlash, but Iraq may not be ready for full-fledged democracy by the time U.S. troops withdraw over the next two to five years. The Bush administration should patiently assist the Iraqis in laying the foundations for democracy in Iraq, but it should also avoid pressing for an overly ambitious rapid democratic transformation that could bring anti-democratic forces to power or destabilize Iraq.

Although Iraq, unlike Afghanistan, has considerable oil wealth, a well-educated population, a secular tradition, and a modern infrastructure, there are daunting political, cultural, and historical obstacles to building a stable democracy in Iraq. American troops, initially welcomed as liberators by many Iraqis, soon will become scapegoats for all of Iraq's problems. America's honeymoon period may already be ending in Iraq: Last week, tens of thousands of Iraqi Shiites on a pilgrimage in Karbala used their newly won political freedom to call for an Islamic state and the immediate withdrawal of American forces.

Washington should remember that the British, welcomed as liberators in Baghdad in 1917 after defeating the Ottoman Empire, were the target of the "Great Iraqi Revolution" three years later. That uprising took the British more than four months to quell, at the cost of 450 British dead and 1,250 wounded, and was followed by repeated tribal and nationalist uprisings until 1936.

Britain established the trappings of democracy -- a constitution, parliament, king, and council of ministers -- but British meddling, Iraqi political corruption, and the government's inability to meet basic needs discredited democracy in the eyes of many Iraqis. Iraq's army eventually terminated Iraq's democratic experiment, staging 15 coups between 1936 and 1968, when Saddam Hussein's Baath party finally seized power.

Building a genuine democracy in Iraq requires much more than regime change. It requires a supportive civil society, strong support for the rule of law, and a political culture that rewards compromise rather than zero-sum political competition.

These will require many years to develop. Iraq's civil society has been ravaged by more than 30 years of totalitarian Baath party rule. Iraq's shrinking middle class, a potential base of support for democratic rule, has been crushed by economic hardship and political repression. And, as in Yugoslavia, longstanding ethnic and religious tensions are likely to explode in political violence as repressed groups, such as the Kurds and Shiites, reassert themselves and seek vengeance against their former oppressors. It is unrealistic to expect that the United States can quickly remedy all these shortcomings.

Moreover, attempting to compress the radical changes necessary for building a genuine democracy into a short five-year time frame would be a risky experiment. Premature elections would favor Islamic radical parties whose concept of democracy is "one man, one vote, one time." In 1992, an overly ambitious scheme to inject democracy into Algeria's one-party political system led to the electoral victory of the Islamic Salvation Front, plunging Algeria into a bloody civil war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives. A premature rush to democracy in Iraq could lead to a similar disaster.

The Bush administration should set modest goals and have realistic expectations about the limits of its ability to transform Iraq. It should remember that the original purpose of the war was to disarm Iraq and protect Americans, not to implant democracy. Ultimately, only Iraqi civilians can build democracy. Tasking U.S. troops with democracy-building risks bogging them down in a social engineering project that could backfire disastrously, just as mission creep led to debacles in Lebanon in 1983 and Somalia in 1993. The Bush administration must avoid overreaching in Iraq and embarking on a neo-Wilsonian crusade to make the world safe for democracy.

Washington should refrain from raising Iraqi expectations about a quick transition to democracy too high. Democracy should be phased in incrementally: first, local and municipal elections, then provincial elections, and finally national elections. In the meantime, the United States should gradually transfer power to an inclusive, broad-based Iraqi interim administration that will prepare the ground for future national elections. The democratic, pro-Western Iraqi National Congress should play an important role in such an administration.

Transforming Iraq into a genuine democracy is a long-term undertaking that can be completed only after American troops are long gone. Over the next two to five years, the Bush administration should focus on attainable goals that help create the conditions necessary for a successful democratic transition: restoring law and order, rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, reviving the Iraqi economy, and reforming civil society. Retired U.S. Army Lt. General Jay Garner, the chief civil administrator for Iraq, has made a start, but nudging Iraqis toward democracy will be like herding cats.

The United States must also block any attempts at meddling by Iraq's anti-Western neighbors, Syria and Iran. Both countries teamed up in the early 1980s to block Western peacekeeping and nation-building efforts in Lebanon by supporting the Hezbollah terrorist group, a Lebanese surrogate.

Both countries reportedly are now working with Iraqi clients to oppose U.S. efforts to reform Iraq. The Bush administration should follow up its public warnings to Damascus and Tehran to stop meddling in Iraq with private warnings about the possible diplomatic, economic, and military consequences of such behavior.

By focusing on these short-term objectives, the United States can help put the Iraqis on the path to democracy. But Washington cannot compel Iraqis to reach that destination. It can only patiently assist the Iraqis to find their own way.

(James A. Phillips is a research fellow in Middle Eastern affairs in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation.)

The Heritage Foundation

WASHINGTON -- Can we afford a big tax cut right now?

By Norbert Michel

That's what the arguments against the president's $726 billion proposal boil down to, really. The fact that we've been at war, that the economy remains sluggish, that we've returned to deficit spending -- all amount to a concern about price.

It would be a valid concern, too, if tax cuts simply extracted money from the economy. Then it would be a bad idea to slash our collective income just as our expenses were set to rise. It would make much more sense to go with $550 billion or $450 billion or $350 billion -- or whatever number congressional skeptics such as Sens. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, are embracing.

But that's not how tax cuts work. Properly constructed, they result in more jobs, more savings and more income.

Indeed, a tax cut that encourages long-term growth by making it cheaper for people to invest -- and eliminating the tax individuals pay on dividends would do that in spades -- is exactly what our fragile economy needs, even (perhaps especially) when there's a war to pay for.

Yet the dividend portion of the president's plan is just what congressional tax-cut opponents are targeting. Many would prefer a temporary, "fiscally responsible" tax cut instead. But that idea has already been found wanting: The $300 and $600 rebates mailed to taxpayers in 2001 were a sop to this way of thinking, and they did nothing to boost the economy.

We should never try to induce consumer spending at the expense of our long-term economic health. As the Congressional Budget Office noted in an analysis of the president's budget, encouraging higher government spending and private consumption hurts economic growth in the long term. By focusing instead on pro-growth tax cuts, lawmakers can ensure a quicker and smoother economic recovery.

A dividend tax cut is an excellent way to do this. It's why the $726 billion plan would lead to more business expansion and more jobs -- an annual average of 914,000 more jobs over the next five years, a recent Heritage Foundation analysis found.

By contrast, a $350 billion tax cut would create about 362,000 new jobs annually. That's nothing to sneeze at, but why settle for generating only about one-third the number of new jobs we could get if we go with the original $726 billion package?

Tax-cut critics have one more ace up their sleeve, however -- deficits. Look at what happened when Congress enacted a big tax cut in the 1980s, they say. The budget was plunged into red ink because the 1981 cut drained federal revenues.

But facts sometimes have an inconvenient way of wrecking such tidy cause-and-effect arguments. Take a look at the revenue figures for the 1980s, and a different picture emerges. In 1980, the last year before the tax cut, the government took in $956 billion (in inflation-adjusted dollars).

Did government revenues drop like a stone, per the hand-wringing predictions tax-cut opponents made then? On the contrary. In all but two of the next 10 years, revenues rose as much as $265 billion (and even in the two "off" years, they came close to matching it).

The real culprit behind the Great Deficit Mystery is government spending, which also rose in the 1980s. But try telling that to the critics, who still accuse tax-cut advocates of pushing "voodoo economics." They'd rather stick with short-term stimulus, it seems.

Yet it stands to reason that when individuals are faced with job and war uncertainties, providing them with one-time tax rebates will do little to change their outlook, and it's outlook that drives behavior -- how much people save, spend and invest. And that's true whether we're at war or not.

(Norbert Michel is a policy analyst in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation.)

The Cato Institute

WASHINGTON -- Squaring the Democratic circle: constitutional options for postwar Iraq

By Patrick Basham

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says Operation Iraqi Freedom is designed to "help the Iraqi people create the conditions for a rapid transition to a representative self-government." Given the enormity of this task, if Iraq is to be remade as a beacon of Islamic democracy, how should this new government be configured?

To ensure that Iraq doesn't become another Bosnia or Lebanon, the introduction of a representative government must allow for the complex, heterogeneous nature of Iraqi society. There exist centuries-old religious and ethnic hatreds, as well as intense, frequently violent, tribal, and clan rivalries. More than 75 percent of Iraq's 24 million people belong to one of 150 tribes whose decision-making is dominated by tribal elders. Historically, no Iraqi government, including Saddam Hussein's, has survived without significant tribal support.

A balance of power must be achieved between those subscribing to different interpretations of the Muslim faith. Southern Iraq is dominated by Shiite Muslims (60 percent of Iraqis), including Iranian-supported fundamentalists, while traditionally more secular Sunni Muslims, the backbone of Saddam's regime, live mainly in central Iraq. In northern Iraq, there is a large Kurdish majority.

Then there is the labyrinthine world of anti-Saddam opposition politics. The country's new political structure must accommodate the leaders of the four million-strong exile community. Internally, the main opposition groups are Kurdish and Shiite.

New political institutions must be designed to prevent the long-suppressed Shiites from (a) exacting revenge upon the Sunnis and (b) ignoring the needs of the Kurds and urban secularists.

A further obstacle to implementing representative government is the extensive political maneuvering among the opposition groups. Each group wants to benefit from the end of the Saddam era, preferably at the expense of its rival(s). Yassir Muhammad Ali, who leads a million-strong tribe, asserts, "We need guarantees that our tribe will be looked after in the new regime."

Disconcertingly, the two dominant Kurdish parties fought a bloody four-year civil war during the 1990s. While recent rhetoric is more political than militaristic, Zaid Sorchi, a leading Kurdish tribal leader, proudly asserts, "We ... believe in tribes. Tribes are the way forward, not political parties."

Given these underlying tensions, myriad constitutional options remain available for determining the make-up of the new governing structures. These options include:

-- The Afghanistan model. This is British Prime Minister Tony Blair's preferred option. Before free elections could be organized in post-Taliban Afghanistan, a meeting of Afghani tribal elders elected Hamid Karzai as president. Blair wants the United Nations to organize a comparable conference that appoints members of an interim Iraqi administration that, while lacking executive power, runs the day-to-day government until elections are held. Unfortunately, Karzai is today the de facto mayor of Kabul, and little else. In practice, Afghanistan is politically partitioned with respective tribal warlords exercising dictatorial power over each region.

-- The Kurdish Model. Building on some small successes in self-ruled northern Iraq, some people advocate the creation of an Iraqi federation in which groups, such as the Kurds, enjoy a large amount of political autonomy that stops just short of statehood. This path may persuade Shiites on both sides of the Iraq-Iran border that a militant Islamic state cannot be carved out of the New Iraq.

-- The Northern Ireland Model. This requires a settlement based on the Northern Irish legislature, whereby those elected to office register as a member of a specific religious or ethnic group. The passage of legislation requires the support of a majority in each group, thereby binding the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds together, politically. However, the current political impasse in Northern Ireland doesn't augur well for this model's transmission to the Iraqi context.

-- The Pluralist Model. Heavily influenced by the early American experience with liberal democracy, the federation is centered on regional governments constitutionally autonomous in matters unrelated to national defense, foreign policy, and the judicial system.

-- The Swiss Model. Under this constitutional arrangement, a confederation of semi-autonomous regional governments dominates policymaking with some limited powers reserved to the federal government. A small federal Cabinet, containing an elected representative of each major ethnic and religious group, is responsible for national affairs. The position of president rotates annually around the cabinet. All constitutional changes are subject to a referendum.

History informs us that the political infrastructure necessary to support a democratic system of representative government requires a constitution that: limits the power of government to interfere in people's lives; establishes the primacy of the rule of law; settles conflict through an impartial judicial system; maintains public order through an untainted police force; mandates regular elections; and guarantees freedom of speech and association. Critically, Iraqis must recognize that the absence of those elements will doom its chosen model regardless of other, more ornate, constitutional trappings.

(Patrick Basham is a senior fellow in the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute.)

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