A recent article in Foreign Policy by Alia Brahimi suggests that the U.S.-led war on terrorism was a failure and that the poorly managed and chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan has led to a weakening of U.S. power and leadership.
While well written, the piece ignores some realities on the ground in the Middle East. In Iraq, there is a budding, though admittedly fragile, representative form of government. One that has had several successful elections that were relatively peaceful. There is no ongoing civil conflict in Iraq as compared to the situation in Syria and in Libya, and new elections are scheduled to take place in October.
A close and unemotional analysis of the geopolitical realities in that part of the Middle East suggests that a new balance of power is emerging. The emerging balance of power is one that will promote negotiations to end the constant struggle for power between Iran and Saudi Arabia, strengthen the continuing democratic experiment in Iraq, the rise of Israel’s influence in once hostile capitals in the Gulf region, as well as the moderation of Iran’s demands for an end to sanctions as a price to resume nuclear talks with the West. As an example, Iran has agreed to allow the IAEA access to the monitoring equipment that tracks its nuclear research.
It can be argued that the goals of the United States have been met in full, and given time, provide a fertile ground for representative government throughout the region.
The objectives that the United States set for itself as it began its War on Terror were two-fold; to prevent terrorists from using Afghanistan as a base of operations and the capture or death of Osama bin Laden.
Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011 and the Taliban concluded an agreement with the Trump administration last year. While the Taliban have retaken power in Afghanistan, it has also pledged not to allow its territory to be used as a base of operation for groups like Al Qaeda. Whether this actually happens remains to be seen.
While former President George W. Bush has been universally criticized for his invasion of Iraq, and the savage guerrilla war that followed, the fact that a representative form of government has emerged in the middle of despotic regimes cannot be ignored.
The current Iraqi government structure was set up in a time of war and has many shortcomings, reminiscent of the first government of the United States.
Naufel Alhassan, an Iraqi politician, as well as a former senior advisor to former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, has established a number of principles for keeping Iraq’s fragile democracy alive. Among them: Redesigning and restructuring Iraq’s political system; reforming the judicial, supervisory, and legislative systems; the redistribution of wealth; reorganizing the economy; and finally, ensuring a representative form of government that includes voices from across all of Iraqi society.
These are lofty goals, but corruption and waste are holding back the economy, and are radicalizing the young people of Iraq.
An article in Al-Fanar Media expresses the challenges facing the people of Iraq. “The country is in an economic vise, with billions going annually to its civil service. Each government worker has been estimated by the World Bank to get about 17 minutes of work done per day. Iraq is currently the seventh-largest oil-producing country, but oil revenue has been dropping. Little of the money the country earns is being invested in future economic growth or spreading services to a larger share of the population. Meanwhile about 700,000 young Iraqis come onto the job market each year. A primer on job creation in Iraq written for the World Bank estimated the youth unemployment rate at 36 percent.”
The biggest threat to the democratic experiment in Iraq is the lack of capital investment and entrepreneurship. With a large youth population, Iraqi youth need opportunities for employment and establishing small businesses.
The United States needs to find a way to help the more than 32 million young adults in Iraq find an economic future. This method needs to be able to bypass the corrupt bureaucracy of Iraq, and invest directly into the economy of Iraq. Microloans might be the answer.
The United States Small Business Administration provides a working model for a possible microloan project for under-employed Iraqi youth. The microloans could be used for working capital, inventory or supplies, furniture, or fixtures, and or machinery or equipment.
Such a program would have to have the blessing of the Iraqi government and be administered from the U.S. embassy in order to prevent further corrupt officials from diverting money for their own personal use. If possible, it might be advisable to have Iraqi religious leaders assist in the disbursement of funds.
During a recent protest, protestors chanted “Secular, secular, not Shia, not Sunni!” With demands for more economic opportunity, the youth of Iraq may tip the balancetowards a more responsible Iraqi government, and fulfill George Bush’s idea of infecting the Middle East with democracy.