Sunday, August 29, 2010

An article by Prof. Noah Feldman makes the exact same point that the Korean has made previously, although the Korean was speaking of Afghanistan:
In 1953, after the armistice ending the Korean War, South Korea lay in ruins. President Eisenhower was eager to put an end to hostilities that had left his predecessor deeply unpopular, and the war ended in an uneasy stalemate. But the United States had a strong interest in regional stability, and some worrisome enemies to keep in check. So Eisenhower decided to leave tens of thousands of troops behind, and signed a treaty with the U.S.-backed government to formalize their presence. Thirty-five years later, South Korea emerged as a stable democracy.

The situation in Iraq today bears some intriguing similarities.


South Korea again provides an instructive example. The U.S. left troops in the peninsula after the armistice not to benefit the Korean people, but because it did not trust either North Korea or China. Like Iraq, South Korea had no meaningful history of electoral self-government. Indeed, for the first generation after the war, South Korea was governed by a succession of military dictators—and the U.S. acquiesced, even acting in concert with the governments. No one would have predicted at the time that South Korea—war-torn like Iraq, and in dire need of reconstruction—was a candidate for successful democratization.
A Very Long Engagement [Wall Street Journal]


  1. There are loads of problems with your assumptions though. In that Iraq can't develop along lines of Korea, religious and ethnic divides also if they industrialise who will buy their stuff?

    Another massive assumption pro USAers won't like is simply the USA economy, along with most of Europe is totally fucked.

    Think Annabelle Chong type fucked... no Jasmin St Claire fucked. No Japanese bukkake move type fucked. There is already a partial default underway by the fact that Bernanke is printing money zimbabwe style.

    Which means the ability to station 10000s of troops overseas may not be a realistic prospect.

  2. I'm with the Chinese Guy on this one. Both your analysis and Professor Feldman's strike me as being extremely naive, as they ignore the very different contexts of the conflict. Afghanistan has a very different history and very different cultures (note the plural, that makes a huge difference given the relative homogeneity of Korean culture) than Korea. The differences are really too stark. It's not just apples and oranges, but pomegranates and bokbunja.

    Just as importantly, the political and economic situation in the US and around the globe is very different now than it was in the early 1950s. As the Chinese Guy points out, the US economy is collapsing, which means that the US empire will very quickly prove unsustainable.

    If American politicians and policymakers had any sense of patriotism, or indeed any sense at all, they would immediately curtail these ridiculous imperialist incursions and spend the money at home on our own people. Instead, they will most likely continue to press forward with these failed strategies which will only hasten economic collapse.

    It's a different world now and the sooner people acknowledge that the better.

  3. There are very important differences between Iraq and South Korea.

    In Korea, the primary threat was from the outside. In Iraq, it is from within.
    In Korea, there are Koreans and that's it. In Iraq, there are 3 different major groups plus smaller ones.
    The Korean economy started its development under dictatorships and continued under democracy.

  4. Of course there are differences between Korea on one hand and Afg/Iraq on the other. The point of Prof. Feldman/The Korean is that Korea's experience provides a lesson for the situations in Afg/Iraq. Argument to the contrary -- i.e. there is absolutely nothing from Korean experience to be learned and applied to the situation at hand in Afg/Iraq -- seems to be a rather hard one to make.

  5. Korean is correct in that there is much to learn from the Korean story. The big lesson is results take ~time~ to happen. Not 1 year, not 4 years, not 8 years or even a decade but 30+ years minimum. And Korea was hyper fast, Iraq will probably be half a century till it can become a first world nation on its own.

    In today's culture of must-have-it-right-fcking-now and 10s sound bites that seem to constitute "news" that is unacceptable. The USA went into Afghanistan in 2001, there will not be a stable government for a few more years, and I wouldn't expect to see any real progress till 2021.

    Another less to learn is to let the locals be masters of their own destiny. You can't go in and setup a country. Country's are grown not manufactured. They must go through the natural process of dictatorship / single-rule to democracy, this process is a very violent one as the entrenched single-rule guys rarely want to be accountable to the people their so happily ruling. Most of the strife isn't even directed at the USA, its directed from one tribal-power towards another tribal-power in a big game to see who comes out on top.

  6. I must agree, there must be some lessons to be learnt. But what is worrying is that democracy has become top priority in Iraq. In South Korea, the objective was capitalism. Because of the priority democracy has taken in Iraq, I'm not sure the lessons can be applied.

    South Korea, of course, fell under dictatorship. Taiwan has been pretty much a one-party state til recent years. The politics of Iraq from what I understand is very partisan and fractured. By focusing on the differences, there is very little to agree on. Strong leadership seems to be impossible. A la China vs India.

    This doesn't have to mean Iraq will not progress. I genuinely hope they do and make the country a better place to live. But since it is a different situation, perhaps a different solution is needed. The lesson I think is that it is not impossible.

  7. Again you are comparing apples with durian...times change. Korea and Vietnam were proxy wars based on idealism. Gotta stop those damned commies was the word at the time.

    Today wars are found on less honourable motivations, that is if war can be honourable at all.

    It also strikes me as very strange how we try to impose 'democracy' on nations. Considering democracy is actually a broken experiment and has actually become a corporatised and kleptocratic state.

    Switzerland can lay partial claim to being a democracy, I'm not sure if any other nations can lay claim to it no matter how loud you protest since the governments do whatever the hell they want anyway regardless of what the people think.

  8. I think one could argue that the US learned the wrong lessons from Korea when they went into Iraq.

    From the Rhee administration on down to scholars and lay people, the US got no small amount of criticism and grief for keeping Japanese and Korean "collaborators" in important positions after liberation.

    Such things, I believe, may have been on the minds of the people who went in to Iraq to "nation build," and they kicked out just about anybody who had been part of the Baath Party. Complete guilt by association no matter to what degree they were Baathists.

    The end result was a disgruntled instant underclass, as well as a lack of competent people running important services.

  9. If the US economy along with Europe ends up being that f'ed up, then the US's army and naval power will be last to be sacrificed in the longer term of that playing out. If countries cannot get resources to process due to regional and sea-lane disruptions, the economy will ended up f'ed even faster. Then we may be looking for replays of the early twentieth century.

  10. Kushibo//
    I think you are right to a point. The existence of a central government is crucial for stability. The problem was that Afghan did not have a "centralized" government. The US could not negotiate or take control of a central power; they had to go in and negotiate with individual war lords.

    In Iraq, there was a central government, but the US dsibanded it along with its army releasing angry trained and armed mitants to the street.

    However, I think executing and getting rid of high collaborators of Sadam was actually good move. Even Iraqi people did not like that A-hole. It was good dramatic move. The real problem was dsbanding the whole system.


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