What do we owe Iraq?
America is up to its neck in nation building--but the public debate, focused on getting the troops home, devotes little attention to why we are building a new Iraqi nation, what success would look like, or what principles should guide us. What We Owe Iraq sets out to shift the terms of the debate, acknowledging that we are nation building to protect ourselves while demanding that we put the interests of the people being governed--whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, or elsewhere--ahead of our own when we exercise power over them.
Noah Feldman argues that to prevent nation building from turning into a paternalistic, colonialist charade, we urgently need a new, humbler approach. Nation builders should focus on providing security, without arrogantly claiming any special expertise in how successful nation-states should be made. Drawing on his personal experiences in Iraq as a constitutional adviser, Feldman offers enduring insights into the power dynamics between the American occupiers and the Iraqis, and tackles issues such as Iraqi elections, the prospect of successful democratization, and the way home.
Elections do not end the occupier's responsibility. Unless asked to leave, we must resist the temptation of a military pullout before a legitimately elected government can maintain order and govern effectively. But elections that create a legitimate democracy are also the only way a nation builder can put itself out of business and--eventually--send its troops home.
Feldman's new afterword brings the Iraq story up-to-date since the book's original publication in 2004, and asks whether the United States has acted ethically in pushing the political process in Iraq while failing to control the security situation; it also revisits the question of when, and how, to withdraw.
Though there are books on the "how-to" of nation-building, there are none on the ethical theories behind it, says Feldman, author of After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy and former senior constitutional adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Feldman, who teaches law at NYU, does not address the legality or wisdom of the removal of Saddam Hussein's regime, nor the question of when international intervention is justified. He includes some useful anecdotes from his Iraqi tenure, though he doesn't aim to produce a comprehensive account of political negotiations there. But his knowledge of the facts on the ground does lead him to conclude that the U.S. needs to stay in Iraq for democracy to take; his book, based on lectures delivered at Princeton in April 2004, constructs an ethics for doing so. Considering trusteeship, he argues that the American presence in Iraq should facilitate public speech, assembly and participation in administration. He also warns Americans to abandon the notion that they know how to produce a functioning democracy, something that has already come to pass. Written with tempered passion and a grounded sense of the possibilities, Feldman's book nicely bridges theory and practice, even as some events outpace it.