Sunday, January 23, 2005

The best of outcomes, the worst of outcomes

Amir Taheri, writing in Arab News, describes a best- and worst-case scenario for post-election Iraq. The difference is rather stark. He suspects the best case is more likely. I pray he is right.

Best case:

The election is held producing a Parliament that, in turn, will choose a new government of national unity. Enjoying people-based legitimacy such a government would deprive the insurgency of its claim of fighting against foreign occupation. The US and coalition allies would be able to scale down their military presence while accelerating the recruitment, training and deployment of the new Iraqi armed forces and police. That would make it possible for the US-led coalition forces to be withdrawn by 2007, the most realistic date for such a move.

Also in the best case scenario Iraq could mobilize its immense manpower and natural resources, to rebuild its economy. A little noticed report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), issued last November, shows that even now the Iraqi economy is, relatively speaking, performing better than anyone else’s in the Arab Middle East. The report makes a predication that some might find audacious: In the next decade, Iraq could become the engine of growth for the region.

The IMF experts are not being frivolous.

Iraq sits on top of the world’s second largest oil deposits. It is the only Middle Eastern nation with substantial water resources and arable land. At the same time Iraq has the highest rates of literacy in the Arab world plus a vast pool of skilled workers at most levels. With a minimum of security, Iraq could also attract up to 10 million Shiite pilgrims a year from all over the world. (Between June 2003 and June 2004 some seven million foreign pilgrims visited Iraq.)

Worst case:
Widespread violence could disrupt the election while mass Sunni boycott casts doubt on the results. The insurgents could extend their attacks to Shiite areas, provoking Shiite counterattacks. This could lead to a de facto partition of the country or intermittent ethnic war of the kind Lebanon experienced in the 1970s and 1980s. President George W. Bush may try to stick it out until the end of his term. But his successor, lacking the stomach or the desire to stay the course, may galumph out of the quagmire. Then the Kurds may decide to set up a break away state, provoking clashes with Turkey and Iran. Iraq could become a black hole sucking the Middle East into the unknown.
(Link via Dr. Sanity.)

An interesting if tangential point: Kudos to the Arab News, a publication which as far as I know does not typically run pieces by regular contributors to National Review.