Culturally, the Bush administration failed miserably at understanding what needed to be done within the Iraqi cultures. For example, Diamond notes that the U.S. tried to build security through an Iraqi police for4ce but that effort “withered from haste, inefficiency, poor planning, and sheer incompetence.” Cops were rushed on the job with “too little training, insufficient vetting, and shamefully inadequate equipment” (Diamond, 2004). The U.S. lacked “an effective political strategy for postwar Iraq”; the U.S. never grasped the fact (based on Iraqi culture) that while “most Iraqis were grateful for having been liberated” from Saddam, that gratitude was mixed with “deep suspicion” of the real motives of the Americans. In reality, the Iraqis saw a “Western, Christian, essentially Anglo-American” power occupying their country.
Also, the Americans mistakenly thought that briefcases full of cash would bring political security. American officials in 2004, eager to hold elections in Iraq, “…offered some Sunni tribal leaders huge sums of money to pay for reconstruction of their areas in exchange for their support” (El-Khawas, 2008). That plan failed because the U.S. thought dollars would trump centuries old cultural / ethnic loyalties, and America was wrong. Still, the U.S. pushed ahead with elections in Iraq, trying to time them to be held prior to the U.S. presidential election in the fall of 2004 so Bush could claim that a working democracy was at hand in Iraq. The public opinion polls in 2004 in the U.S. were indicating increasing impatience with Bush’s handling of the war, hence the need to force through an electoral process in Iraq.
In the midst of increasing sectarian violence (the Bush administration stubbornly refused to admit there was a civil war underway in Iraq), the American in charge of the occupation, Paul Bremer, turned the keys to the fledgling Iraqi political apparatus over to an interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, giving him “a detailed roadmap approved by U.S. officials in Washington,” according to Mohamed a. El-Khawas writing in Mediterranean Quarterly. And here is another example of how cultural and political factors come into play in terms of being impediments to nation building. The names of the candidates to be chosen by Iraqi citizens were not known “or released” prior to the elections. Voters were given a limited option to choose between “…a bewildering array of diverse parties, not for individuals or smaller constituencies” (El-Khawas, 2008).
When the elections came off without any noticeable violence, Bush gave a speech that asserted that the Iraqis were “on a path to full democracy” (El-Khawas, 2008). In devising a constitution, cultural and ethnic issues came sharply into play; the Kurds wanted two states, one Kurdish and one Arab; the Shiites wanted to lay claim to oil-rich lands in the south of Iraq; and the Sunnis didn’t want to be stuck in a region without much oil. Leadership from the al-Maliki government thus far has been vague and spotty, and the U.S. has attempted to ram through decisions in an undemocratic fashion, leading to a “highly fragile” democracy, according to El-Khawas.
In her essay titled “Nation Building” Marina Ottaway asserts that it is “fantasy” to believe that the goal of nation building is always to build a democratic state. The U.S. has a nation-building plan for Afghanistan that equates to the “one-size-fits-all” model for democratic reconstruction, Ottaway writes in Foreign Affairs (Ottaway, 2002). And Ottaway asserted in 2002 that this nation-building plan would not work in Afghanistan; she may be proven right, based on the failure of the U.S. mission to bring stability, the increased violence and the re-insurgence of the Taliban.
Collier, Paul. “The Market for Civil War.” Foreign Policy issue 136 (2003): 38-46.
Diamond, Larry. “What Went Wrong in Iraq?” Foreign Affairs 83.5 (2004): 34-56.
El-Khawas, Mohamed a. “Nation Building in a War Zone: The U.S. Record in Iraq, 2003-
2007.” Mediterranean Quarterly 19.1 (2008): 42-62.
Fearon, James D. “Iraq’s Civil War.” Foreign Affairs 86.2 (2007): 2-15.
Huntington, Samuel. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Touchstone, 1999.