Alan from Southerly Buster flags another promising move in US democracy-building in Iraq: the Americans have enlisted the help of India in providing governance training for large numbers of Iraqi bureaucrats. It’s a positive indication, although I can’t help feeling a little nervous, for reasons gently mentioned by Asia Times:
India has a world-wide reputation for its 9 million-strong central and state government bureaucracy, the foundations of which were honed during British rule, although it also has a reputation for excessive red tape, and being prone to corruption.
As Southerly Buster’s Alan observes:
This is a hopeful, if small, sign that things in Iraq will improve over the next few months. It seems to me that getting the nuts-and-bolts right is as important as the large and sexy issues like the new Temporary Administrative Law or dealing with the underlying security problem.
My Charles Darwin University colleague Juan Federer makes a similar but broader point in a soon-to-be-published monograph about East Timor’s nation-building experience under UN tutelage:
If the international community wishes to achieve success at democratic state-building, it is thus crucial that it properly understands local social structures and ideas of political authority and legitimacy when it tries to set up a new state structure, so that it is accepted and has legitimacy with the local people, Hoje adds. This, clearly, requires more time than the 30 months of UNTAET’s presence. The mere ‘successful’ holding of western-style elections is not a signpost of having created a sustainable democracy. …State-building is a job not just for peacemakers or diplomats. In addition to the more traditional skills such as governance experts, economists, jurists and so on, it requires a variety of professional skills. Historians, ethnologists familiar with the societies in question, social psychologists, trauma psychologists are but a few of the professional skills that would have been required by UNTAET but were not sufficiently emphaisized. The UN would do well to prepare some expertise along these lines
In the case of East Timor, even development of those more traditional skills areas, like the governance training of bureaucrats and professional training of lawyers and judges, was rushed and extremely inadequate. Hence both the public service bureaucracy and the court system remain hopelessly slow and inefficient, because the participants are only now working out by trial and error how to do their jobs.
The fact that the US is seeking India’s assistance in training bureaucrats at such an early stage of the nation-building process suggests that the Americans have learned some important lessons from the mistakes the UN made in East Timor. Hopefully we’ll also soon witness the emergence of comprehensive programs for training a competent, honest legal profession and independent judiciary.
Juan Federer’s more general point about local legitimacy and acceptance of constitutional/governance structures adopted during a foreign-supervised nation-building exercise is, of course, the sixty four billion dollar question for the Americans in Iraq. Will the fact that western-style democracy is, in one sense, being imposed at gunpoint, destroy any possibility of acceptance and local legitimacy? Or will a constitutional development process conducted mostly under the auspices of a popularly elected National Assembly, and with a federal structure allowing regional, ethnic and religious differences to be accommodated, be enough? The attitude of heavyweight Shiite leader Ayatollah Sistani, though prickly and equivocal to say the least, suggests that success is achievable. But it will require a level of commitment, tact, patience and skill that I’m far from convinced the Americans possess.