Good News from Iraq - I've read several pieces recently with pretty upbeat takes on the situation in Iraq. (For instance, Salam Pax's new column; Mark Steyn's look at western Iraq; this column by Ken Joseph.) I see no reason to doubt these reports. But just below I claim that the situation will not work. What's up with that?
The answer to that is that currently Iraq is, more or less, anarchy. It is evolving up from mere anarchy (completely ungoverned), and now has some vague semblance of governance. It is still anarchic, though: the only state on the ground - the USA - is not in the position to enforce a monopoly of legitimate force. The population do not see the US troops as legitimate; it is clear they are external impositions, even if they are useful and even desired.
As an anarchy, the people have unrivalled liberty. In fact they currently have much more liberty than we do! Iraq is currently a great place to do business. This is one of the things that jumps strongly out at you from the accounts you can read. It is the free market in action, and it is good.
That said, behind the scenes the men of power are moving. With the encouragement of the USA, they will build a government. Then they will have elections of some sort, and socialists will take control. It has happened in every democracy that has ever existed, without fail. Then laws will begin to be passed, many of which will be good laws: laws to stop random crime of property and person. But democracy does not ever stop at a minarchy; oh no. They'll regulate business. They'll tax - states are impotent without expropriation to run their patronage. They'll begin rent-seeking maneuvers to benefit private interests. They'll pass sharia-inspired regulations of all kinds. They'll make all kinds of victimless actions crimes. The freewheeling anarchic Iraq will disappear. People will look back on the brief interlude of liberty as a sort of wild dream.
Led by demogogues of their own chosing, the Iraqi people will eventually revolt and force out the US. They don't really like us. Then the Shi'ites will vote in full Sharia and a theocracy ala Iran. Alternatively, it is possible that a US-favored strongman will arise and effective shut down the democracy. Either way, the result is authoritarian. Probably better than Saddam, that I'll concede. But not, overall, worth the price from our POV.
I just hope that the Kurds can secede and make it stick. This is possible in the first scenario. It would be best for the Iraqi people if the USA carved up the country right now, into autonomous ethnic nations that might have a chance at surviving democracy. But I hardly think that is likely. Any way it goes, it looks to me like the Kurds had better be stockpiling their weapons. Fortunately for them, they are ahead of the rest of Iraq in terms of developing political institutions.