Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Japan Opinion: The Disintegrating Nation State and the Quagmire in Iraq
KITAMURA Fumio  / Journalist

April 7, 2006
March 20 marked the third anniversary of the Iraq War. Three years ago, it took a mere three weeks for the U.S. government of President George Bush to overwhelm and oust the government of Saddam Hussein by mobilizing the latest in military technology. However, the downfall of the infamous dictatorship was only a prelude to greater bloodshed and destruction. According to the Associated Press, the death toll among U.S. soldiers has exceeded 2,300 since the beginning of the war, while more than 32,000 Iraqi citizens have fallen victim to fighting between religious sects and attacks by U.S. Forces.

In December last year, elections were held in Iraq for the National Assembly as the final step of the roadmap to reconstruction. The election resulted in a landslide victory for Shi'ite Muslims. And in an ironic twist, as hardliners in the sect intensified their drive to monopolize power, resentment among Sunni Muslims and ethnic Kurds rose to the surface with explosive fervor. The third anniversary of the Iraq War thus arrived amid disastrous circumstances described as a "civil war" by Iyad Allawi, former Prime Minister of the Interim Government of Iraq. The United States has been dragged deeper into the quagmire of Iraq and now finds itself at an impasse with no exit in sight.

The Afghan War and the Iraq War were triggered by the multiple terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001. President Bush immediately proclaimed it an act of war, and launched an offensive against the Taliban regime of Afghanistan. A year and a half later, he forged ahead with a preemptive attack on Iraq on the pretext that the Hussein government possessed weapons of mass destruction and was harboring terrorists. Perhaps in the mind of President Bush "war" was an inter-state conflict where victory came with the conquest of enemy territory. He may have envisioned an end to war marked by the emergence of an obvious winner and loser.

However, as demonstrated by the actions of Al Qaida, today's terrorists possess no sense of loyalty or belonging to any specific state. International terrorist organizations cannot be choked off by simply muscling out the Taliban regime or the Hussein government. Such organizations ignore international rules that assign the role of actors in international relations to sovereign states. In fact, they reject conventional international order altogether. Herein lies the critical difference between the past U.S. experience of the Vietnam War and today's war against terrorism. In the Vietnam War, the communist regime of North Vietnam and South Vietnam's National Liberation Front backed by the North constituted the enemy. And the United States was able to end the war by signing the Paris Peace Accords with the two parties.

The Iraq War will be recorded in history not only for its difference with conventional wars, but also for undeniably revealing the complexities of modern war. Latest developments have led to the disintegration of the nation state itself, accompanied by a dramatic transformation in the concept of war. The impetus for this phenomenon was provided by the end of the Cold War, which saw ideological conflict between liberalism and socialism being taken over by a wave of free market mechanism that now sweeps the world.

The principle of free competition aims to reach all regions of the world. As a matter of course, it seeks to eliminate all regulations and limitations, including the regulatory rights over which sovereign states had exercised discretionary power. The ideological counterbalance against this tide of our times was lost with the disappearance of socialist regimes. The tide of a globalized economy, bringing prosperity to the strong and poverty to the weak, has begun to transcend national borders to deliver direct hits on each country. "Independent nation-building," once a slogan proudly championed by Third World countries, has now been rendered obsolete.

The wealth gap has widened without end since the 1990's, and pent-up frustration among "have-nots" in the developing countries has become almost palpable. The majority of people suffering from inequality are rapidly losing their confidence and sense of belonging in the disintegrating nation state. The expanding paradox caused by the tide of globalization has served as a hotbed for international terrorist organizations. While it may seem a contradiction, the secret of Iraq's relative internal stability lay in the oppressive rule of the Hussein government that blocked interaction with the outside world. The Iraq War destroyed Hussein's dictatorship, and with the "lid" thus blown open, contradictions that lay hidden within Iraqi society, namely the hostility between privileged and poor, distrust between religious sects and resistance among ethnic minorities, surged to the surface in one violent eruption. By applying drastic surgery, the Bush administration had forced open a Pandora's Box.

Prior to the Iraq War, the majority of Middle East experts in Japan had opposed the war, foreseeing such tragic consequences. Had the U.S. government, which boasts the world's best intelligence gathering capability, decided to go to war without preparing for the situation in Iraq today, its decision would have indeed been nothing but mystifying.

Under the confusion that has shrouded Iraq, tens of thousands of its citizens have already been killed. Still, we have yet to see the possibility of an "Iraqi government by the Iraqi people" that will serve as the main mechanism for reviving the country. With the nation state system itself in a shambles, citizens gripped by anxiety can only turn to militias and regional communities centered on religious sects. Such exclusive solidarity incites mutual distrust and hatred among citizens, deepens the rift within the country and further lessens the chances of creating a united government. With no hopes of a bright future under this state of siege, radical groups rush to vent their frustration by further escalating their armed resistance. President Bush has reportedly said the Iraq War may not be concluded by the end of his term in January 2009. An honest confession that may be, but irrelevant with respect to the totally different issue of the responsibility for starting the war.

The writer is a former Professor of Shukutoku University and former Senior Editor and London Bureau Chief of the Yomiuri Shimbun.
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2006年 4月 7日









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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Japan Opinion: The Disintegrating Nation State and the Quagmire in Iraq