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Confronting Iraq Special Report
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Confronting Iraq:

With Joseph Braude

Tuesday, March 25, 2003; 1 p.m. ET

In the minds of many Americans, Iraq is synonymous with Saddam Hussein's regime. President Bush, however, has made it clear that he is not at war with the Iraqi people and hopes to plant the self-governing seed of democracy in a post-war Iraq. In "The New Iraq: Rebuilding the Country for Its People, the Middle East and the World" (Basic Books), author Joseph Braude explains how a global commitment to Iraq's renewal will benefit the world.

Braude was online Tuesday, March 25 at 1 p.m. ET, to discuss possibilities for a post-war, post-Hussein Iraq.

Born to an Iraqi-Jewish family, Braude studied at Yale and Princeton. Fluent in Arabic, Persian and Hebrew, he is a business consultant to governments and corporations in the Middle East.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

San Diego, Calif.: Do you forsee a war crimes trial similar to Nuremberg after the U.S. wins the war? Should the French be brought to trial as well since they helped finance Saddam?

Joseph Braude:
It's likely that several top Iraqi officials will be prosecuted for war crimes, which include a campaign of genocide against the Kurdish people. There will be a more complex challenge of national reconciliation between the hitherto disaffected and the stalwart of the Ba'ath party broadly speaking. Unfortunately, it's early to predict the outcome of this process. But suffice to say that economic and social justice will be important for the formation of a viable state.

Regarding France and other countries, I take the view that Russia, Europe, and the Gulf states should move to forgive the emerging Iraqi government of its debt. As you may have heard, foreign debt to governments had reached $180bn on the eve of 2003, and some $322bn in compensation claims from corporations and individuals have been submitted to the UN (nearly $38bn has been approved thus far, although only $20bn has been paid). These debts were incurred by Saddam, not by the Iraqi people.

Harrisburg, Pa.: Iraq is composed of several ethnic groups that have historically fought with each other. How likely can any central government command the respect and cooperation of most of the Iraqi people? Further, how well will most groups accept a government they feel is imposed by America and our coalition allies? What would you recommend our government do that could best gain public support throughout Iraq for a democratic government that respects human rights?

Joseph Braude:
Although difficult, I believe it is possible for a pro-American central government to hold the country, given scenarios of autonomy and a redistribution of wealth to the south and north. A response to the question of how to gain public support for an American initiative would be lengthy. But I will make a few points:

-The regional dynamics pose a complex challenge. An effort to cut down oligarchs and foster new elites in Iraq may net a loss of capital for Sunni elites as well as gains for Shi'is and Kurds, neither of whom form a traditional base of support for regional nationalist ideas. This may anger individuals in the center and predispose them to seek support from the region around them in making problems for the nascent government. Our ability to address these challenges through public diplomacy is unfortunately limited. But America must face up to this challenge. From a rhetorical point of view, it's important to present our plans through the prism of economics, and not colonial identity politics, e.g., it's not about cutting down a particular ethnic or religious group; rather, it's about spreading opportunity and fostering new elites.

There's much more to say, and I'd urge you to read my book for the ideas spelled out in detail.

Piscataway, N.J.: What might Iraqi intelligence right now in foreign nations be doing at this time? Could they be plotting terrorist actions?

Joseph Braude:
Iraqi spooks are increasingly on the run these days. Americans should know that intelligence training in Iraq did not induce a worldview conducive to carrying out suicide attacks, but Saddam did train consummate saboteurs. My sense is that the United States is addressing potential domestic threats from Iraq effectively.

Wheaton, Md.: Will this "new Iraq" bring an end to the brutal crimes against humanity in Arab-occupied Kurdistan?

Joseph Braude:
Let us hope so. Kurdish support for a new state venture within the map of Iraq will be based on their having opportunities to develop real economic power and have a role in the political future of the country. It's the right move to work toward reconciliation, reparations, and a process of national healing that addresses Kurds' fear of domination. I would like to see Kurds inducted into the officers' corps of a reengineered Iraqi army. In my chapter, "About Face," about the Iraqi military, I make the following point: "A watershed in US military history was President Truman's order in the 1950s to desegregate American military units, paving the way for full meritocracy in the armed forces. The genius of Truman's move transcends its first consequence: the improvement of the military. He also managed to reorient the sensibilities of young Americans who went on to impact society as civilians. Truman understood that the tedious process of forging societal integration can be achieved faster through a hierarchical institution that is accustomed to following orders. An analogue to Truman's move in Iraq might begin with the integration of all the country's ethnic groups into the officer corps, from which most have been until now excluded. A hallmark of success would witness, for example, Kurdish officers commanding troops -- A Kurdish Colin Powell..."

Austin, Tex.: The welcome for U.S./U.K. troops hasn't thus far been nearly as warm as some expected (although this may be changing in Basra as we speak). It has been said that the question is whether Iraqis dislike Saddam's tyranny more or less than invasion and occupation by a foreign, non-Arab, non-Muslim power. Some people emphasize that Iraqis have a strong sense of nation, and that this makes it especially hard to accept foreign occupation.

But I'm confused. Iraq has only existed as a state for about a century. It is divided ethnically and in terms of religion.

So here's my question: How loyal are Iraqis to their own state and its sovereignty (not necessarily Saddam's government)?

Joseph Braude:
For most inhabitants of the country, a sense of Iraqi national identity exists, borne of generations. There is something constructive there to build on, and there's no reason to assume that a multiethnic society can't work.

As to why Iraqis are not weloming troops: many Iraqis probably would be inclined to welcome them if they felt it was safe to do so. But until the central government is deposed, Iraqis are likely to keep their heads down. As you may know, Iraqis have been disappointed by the United States before: an uprising briefly deposed 15 of Iraq's 18 provinces in 1991 based on high morale resulting from perceived American support. Saddam thinks he might be able to maintain control of an enclave in the center for some time. Iraqis will wait and see whether the US has the resolve to root him out.

Another point: This is not a culture that is accustomed to spontaneous demonstrations of support for anyone. All the rallies we see on television in support of Saddam are organized and coordinated. Organization and coordination will be necessary for a pro-American rally too. That may sound cynical, but it may be so. Iraqis who feel supportive will need encouragement and a sense of backing from an American advance team. That may be difficult to manage before Saddam is deposed.

Springfield, Va.: What lessons should we learn from our failure in Afghanistan to help us build a better Iraq?

Joseph Braude:
I would characterize the venture in Afghanistan as a work in progress. The nature of the project is in any case very different, as Iraq is a country with three major cosmopolitan centers, higher levels of literacy, and enormous wealth.

There is much we can learn from previous state-building efforts we have made -- in Afghanistan and elsewhere. For now, I would like to stress the role of American society in maintain a concern for the success of the project as it unfolds. Media coverage and public interest in the Afghani venture has been minimal. Let's keep our eyes on Iraq even after the war is over. Let's engage in a national dialogue on state-building and a meaningful engagement of societies -- social entrepreneurs, business people, professionals, artists, and so on. There is much Iraqis can learn from us and much we can learn from Iraqis.

Demarest, N.J.: I fear that all the current talk of building democracy in Iraq is a victory of hope over experience: Advocates of this war are selling us their dreams rather than a sober analysis. It's not just that democracy may be very hard to build in Iraq; or that the country may see wars among Shia, Sunni, Kurd and Turk before it sees nationwide peace; or that the Americans may be resented as occupiers -- those red flags are only some of the ones on the Iraqi side. The big red flag on the American side is that we haven't shown the patience since the 1950s to actually stick with a country and see it rebuilt, and that was back when we were in our visionary, nation-building post-New Deal phase. In only one year we've managed to forget Afghanistan, the previous country we were going to rebuild. What can you say to skeptics like me that might persuade us we are likely to accomplish this highminded goal?

Joseph Braude: Your concerns resonate with me. I am worried that the United States may not have the focus to commit to the long haul a viable statebuilding project requires. If you look through my book, you will find less talk about "democracy" and more of a broad discussion on the fostering of meaningful institutions of civil society, a pluralism of voices in government, and a robust competition in a media marketplace of ideas. Democracy is always the object all sublime, as it should be. But working at it from the top-down is only part of the process. The importance of a bottom-up approach cannot be stressed enough. I wrote my book in an effort to introduce Iraqi culture, history, and the current problems its people are facing to try to interest Americans on the grass-roots level in getting involved in a number of tangible ways. To a large extent, our commitment as a society to partnering with counterparts in Iraq to help reintegrate them into the global community will be as important, if not more important in the long run, than the government-to-government work.

Vienna, Va.: I need help understanding the sudden moral goal of liberating the people of Iraq from poverty and tyranny after we imposed 10 years of sanctions. Why not just stick to the original objective -- remove their weapons of mass destruction?

Joseph Braude:
It seems that the United States aims to pursue all the goals you mentioned in tandem. I take the view that the case for deposing Saddam can be made on humanitarian grounds, along the lines of engagements in Kosovo and elsewhere. The "sudden urgency" you refer to relates more to the post-Sept. 11 environment and concern about weapons proliferation. Most Iraqis welcome an initiative to depose Saddam; the debate is over the future direction of the country and the role of outsiders.

Churchton, Md.: How much of a problem will the language barrier be in trying to unite the Iraqis and get them to support the changes the U.S. wants to see occur? How will the poor and homeless and less fortunate people be made aware of the changes especially if they are illiterate?

Joseph Braude:
Iraq is 70% urban and 30% rural. Literacy rates, which according to Iraqi government estimates were once as high as 87% but have fallen below 50%, drop precipitously as you leave Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul. International organizations and companies generally set up shop in cities, and unfortunately, urban-rural disparities in literacy, wealth, and so on tend to grow in the era of globalization. Iraq's reindustrialization may usher in new waves of newcomers to urban areas from the rural areas. Meanwhile, however, the rebuilding of Iraq's traditional agricultural base will be essential for the rural areas. 12% of the terrain of Iraq is considered agriculturally cultivable, but at present, only have that space is actually cultivated. Irrigation and desalination systems are decrepit and badly in need of an overhaul.

As to the language barrier, it may be less a problem from a practical standpoint of administering the country than it will be from a public diplomacy standpoint of selling the initiative inside the country and beyond. We will be heckled at every step of the way by the region's satellite television media and others, so I would place special emphasis on the importance of recruiting the right personnel to make the case for transitional government on television both inside the country and more broadly in the region.

Our experience in Afghanistan shows that neighbors such as Iran appreciate the value of broadcasting and public diplomacy, as evidenced by the pro-Iranian Radio Herat, among other local language broadcasts coming from outside the country. We have the language talent, but our message is not always as coherent, because of the ideological divisions within our country, compared to the tightly controlled official ideologies of countries in the neighborhood.

Washington, D.C.: I have heard -- from a soon-to-be Iraqi leader, I hope -- that the Iraqis believe that in addition to oil revenues, they will sooner than we think have major revenues for rebuilding from tourism. The theory is that a great, 8,000 year old city like Baghdad, the crossroads of so many cultures and religions, could become a mecca for tourists if the new government respects its pluralism.

Do you agree?

Joseph Braude:
Tourism and the service industry have great potential in the new Iraq, given political stability. The major non-oil sectors in the short term are medical services, telecommunications, manufacturing, and agriculture. At the moment, about 75% of the paltry 2.5 million-strong labor force is employed by government and the military. 85% of Iraq's pre-Gulf War factories are not currently operating. Agricultural output has fallen dramatically, so that a formerly agricultural dynamo of a country is now a net importer of foods. All this could change given a commitment to the reinvestment of oil revenues into industry and human resources.

As an Iraqi American, I can tell you that I will be on the first plane to Baghdad after the war is over, and I will encourage all my friends to come along.

Washington, D.C.: "Most Iraqis welcome an initiative to depose Saddam; the debate is over the future direction of the country and the role of outsiders."

I'm so glad you say that. Are you as shocked as I am that no one from the human rights community's established human rights groups has come out and made this point? Whether you oppose the war or no, it really astounds me that so many people don't understand that Iraqis want to be liberated. It really is strange that at these anti-war rallies, Palestinians are put on stage (who, probably for their worse, are allied with Saddam) to speak for what the Iraqis want.

Joseph Braude:
It is true that Iraqis in the West have not been a prominent component of the anti-war movement. Part of the reason some have suggested was that the movement did not have much to say about the present regime in Iraq, and that silence was perceived by some Iraqis as a sort of acquiescence to the status quo. You might have seen more Iraqis turn out for anti-war protests calling on Saddam to step down, following along the lines of the initiative put forth by Kuwait, the UAE, and Bahrain at the Arab League a few weeks back.

Joseph Braude:
Thanks to all of you for your interest in my book, "The New Iraq: Rebuilding the Country for Its People, the Middle East, and the World" Regardless of your reading habits, I hope you will all find ways to continue to focus your concern and attention to the challenge of facilitating a brighter future for the people of Iraq.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company