Nation building in Iraq: success or failure?

Did “the surge” work? Is Iraq on its way to becoming a beacon of democracy and economic transparency in the Middle East?

In a word, no. That’s the dispiriting take-home lesson from political scientist Pete W. Moore’s lecture American Nation-State Building and Iraq (website, iTunes).

Moore, associate professor of political science at Case Western Reserve University, argues that while Iraq is a less violent place than it was at the height of its civil war, its economy is far from the “liberal economic order with transparent rules” pursued by the Bush administration in the early days of the American occupation.

In Moore’s telling, American officials believed that with sufficient political will and the right strategy, they could remake Iraq. Instead he argues, that American ability to change Iraq was extremely limited because of the pre-existing structure of its economy.

In the 1980s and 1990s the Iraqi economy came to be dominated by private enterprises with close ties to the Baathist regime. Smuggling to avoid international sanctions was big business and payoffs to government officials were essential. The US invasion replaced the main actors so that now different people are getting rich from smuggling and corruption.

Meanwhile, at least 2 million people from Iraq’s educated, professional class have left the country, and approximately 30% of Iraqi young men are unemployed. The outlook for meaningful economic progress looks grim.

For more from Pete Moore check out this article in the Middle East Report about oil smuggling in Iraq.

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