The Ethics of Nation-Building: What We Owe Iraq
April 26, 27, 28, 2004. Walter E. Edge Lectures
Now that the United States has invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam, we have some special obligations towards Iraqis – on that much, opponents and supporters of the war in Iraq can agree. But what do we owe the Iraqi people? How should we be engaging them on crucial questions like whether to stay or go, who should be in charge in Iraq, and how best to transition to constitutional democracy? What, in short, are the duties that an outside power like the U.S. takes on when it invades another country and replaces its government by force? These lectures take on the concrete policy problems engaged by our continuing nation building efforts in Iraq through the lens of ethics, international law, political theory, and the personal reflections on the speaker’s experiences in Baghdad as a constitutional adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority and to members of the Iraqi Governing Council.
Lecture I, Nation Building: To What End? explores the collapse of the Iraqi state in the wake of Saddam’s fall and the resulting problem of creating political order out of the near-chaos that followed. It asks whether the stability-seeking justifications for nation building after the Cold War can be satisfactory practically and morally, and it sketches the structure of a viable democratic solution for Iraq.
Lecture II, Trusteeship, Paternalism, and Self-Interest, poses the question of whether today’s nation building can avoid the ethical and structural failings of the mandatory nation building efforts that followed World War I. It proposes a new model of trusteeship and accountability to replace the old paternalistic and colonial ideologies of nation building, and examines the place of international law in administering the Iraqi occupation, with special attention to conflicts of interest between the nation building occupier and the citizens of the state being “built.”
Lecture III, The Magic of Elections and the Way Home, takes on the problem of elections, which function both as desirable accountability-checks and as fetishized end-states in the nation building process. Confronting the inherent contradictions of both deferring and demanding elections, this lecture also considers the relation between Islam and democracy in the future of Iraq, and takes on the criticism that a democratic Iraq cannot but collapse into theocracy or dictatorship.