Redoing Reconstruction Right (in Iraq)

What the American Civil War can inform us about Iraq,” by David Ignatius, Daily Star, 5 May 2005, (from Informed Comment).

David Ignatius compares the Iraqi insurgency to the post-conflict in the American Civil War.

After the American Civil War, pandering to the old local elite was a disaster

Reconstruction suffered partly because of a mismatch between a transformational strategy and haphazard tactics. Northern radicals like Representative Thaddeus Stevens wanted to break the old slaveholding aristocracy and remake the South into a version of New England, with former slaves and poor whites dividing up the plantations. But only weeks after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, President Andrew Johnson was moving to protect the privileges of the old regime. Even after Johnson was impeached, the Union balked at enforcing the tough land-reform strategy evoked by the slogan “Forty Acres and a Mule.”

Local pro-Reconstruction forces were too weak to stand on their own

By 1877, says McPherson, the North essentially gave up. Demoralized by the economic depression of 1873, Northern investors pulled back from projects in the South and turned their attention to the West. The troops occupying the South were withdrawn. White Southerners, defeated in war, had won the peace. The South slipped into more than 80 years of racism, isolation and economic backwardness.

So, how to apply this to Iraq? First, recognize the successes

  • It is a success that the Iraqi army was disbanded. In the South we fought plantation power — in Iraq we fight Ba’athi power. The Iraqi Army was a source of Ba’ath power and had to be eliminated.
  • It is a success that the Shia-Kurdish government does not include more Sunnis. The Shia and Kurds will be in Iraq long after we are gone. It is vital that they know the country is theirs, and their oppressors deserve no power out of propotion to their numbers. Attempts to force the Shia-Kurds to include more Sunnis weaken Shia-Kurdish resolve, and give openings ot Ba’athi remnants.

Unlike in Reconstruction, in Iraq are doing it right. We are winning.

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