Q&A: A new new world order?

As the icons of tyranny tumble in Iraq, new questions about America's foreign policy are being raised. Does the fall of Baghdad portend a new, new world order? csmonitor.com's Josh Burek spoke with Rachel Bronson, a Middle East expert with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City, to discuss how Operation Iraqi Freedom is affecting the broader US foreign-policy vision.

csmonitor.com: Iraqis are pouncing on the fallen statues of Saddam Hussein. Does this suggest Iraqi frustration with Hussein, or a wholesale rejection of tyranny and the Baath Party values that supported him? In other words, are the people of Iraq ready to embrace a transition to democracy?

Bronson: I think the jumping on the statues is a response to the [way the] rule of Saddam Hussein permeated every aspect of Iraqi society, manipulated the Baath party in horrendous ways, and affected every aspect of their life. You don't get economic liberalism or democracy unless you have a stable political order. I think if you ask anybody, of course you want democracy, you want direct participation in your political fate. The question is: How do you get there?

csmonitor.com: What impact will the US show of force in Iraq have on larger American aims in the Middle East? Will this accelerate Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts?

Bronson: I have never believed that the Iraq problem is as tied to the Palestinian-Israel problem as the [Bush] administration has laid out. What I mean by that is the administration seems to be operating on a theory that if you remove the problem of Iraq, you will take away a source of violence in the Palestinian community - they won't be receiving encouragement or assistance from Iraq. I don't think that Iraq has been a principal actor in the violence between Palestinians and Israelis.

csmonitor.com: How does American action in Iraq affect US relations with North Korea and Iran, and other countries where hostile regimes are still in power?

Bronson: I think it shows [those countries] that in the face of high, potential civilian casualties and weapons-of- mass-destruction use against our troops, if we believe the threat is large enough, we will [accept that] risk. Certainly toward Iran, I don't think military action on Iran has ever been on the table. In fact, the administration is at great pains to say there are other ways to engage or influence Iran. And I think the military option, whether or not we went to war against Iraq, would've always been on the table with North Korea. But a lot more diplomacy and involvement with allies and our partners over there will transpire before we get to military action. I think we'll have our hands full with Iraq for some time. Iraq is unique, too. President Bush campaigned on going to war with Iraq, so it is unique. What I said before is that it shows we won't shy away from difficulty or risk, but it doesn't suggest we're on the move in North Korea. North Koreans have been surprisingly quiet. Maybe they've turned a corner.

csmonitor.com: How does Operation Iraqi Freedom affect the war on terrorism?

Bronson: I have viewed these as two separate wars. It will have an effect. There was terrorism cell called Ansar al-Islam in northern Iraq. We've demolished their camp. That will help. Saddam Hussein was allowing terrorists to transit his country, but I don't think Iraq has been a principal terrorist threat. I never thought the terrorism justification was the strongest for Iraq. So I don't think this war in Iraq will have a large impact on the war on terrorism. This is not to say Iraq wasn't exceedingly important to undertake. I have been a strong supporter of this war because I believe that it was sadly necessary for a host of reasons. But I think it was something separate from the war on terrorism. In this new era, we will have to learn to conduct the war on terrorism along with all the other foreign policy problems that we have.

csmonitor.com: After the first Gulf War, President [George H. W. ] Bush heralded a new world order. Just what kind of world order are we witnessing now?

Bronson: When the [senior] President Bush talked of a new world order, he was talking about the end of the bipolar system (where the US and USSR polarized all politics) and the rise of a more harmonious international community. The UN was going to play a more central role - remember, he had been the US ambassador to the UN. Iraq was handled through the UN, and as [former National Security Adviser] Brent Scowcroft recently said, it was supposed to be a model for how to conduct international politics. Unfortunately, as Scowcroft has also said, that model hasn't withstood the test of time. We are indeed seeing something very new.

I think in the short term, the challenges are to figure out where the European-American relationship is going. This rift between the French, US, and Germans - that rift will have significant impact on global politics, because most global politics is affected by the Europeans and Americans together. If it's acrimonious, everything becomes harder. This sort of victory that we're seeing should lead to a lot more tension to how we're going to marshal the international community in the face of threats. The "day after," the reconstruction part will be crucial. It's a two-faced problem: war making, and peace making. Phase one is done; phase two will be a different/difficult role. If America and Europe can find a way to work together in phase two ... If not, we're going to have to reconstruct most institutions that govern the global order.

In the long run, how Iraq turns out will have an affect on the region. Iraq has been destabilizing the region. It's been threatening its neighbors constantly and threatening to implode. If we can help construct an Iraq that is stable and status-quo oriented, at least with borders, and its ethnic communities [can] come to political reconciliation... that will have an enormously positive affect . If we can increase political participation in Iraq in the long term - I think that's a 10-year project - then, maybe, we'll see a more positive affect on the region, especially in terms of political participation. But we're talking the long term, certainly not the short term. In fact, the war on Iraq presages a new round of government crackdowns and autocracy and that's the most likely effect in the short term.

csmonitor.com: Any other key points you'd like to share?

Bronson: Right now, this is about law and order. We've learned from the Balkans that if you move too quickly to democracy without establishing law and order, you get black markets, and drug lords, and corruption. We're going to have be very patient and really focus on stability and law and order. That's really risky. That can look like colonial enterprise. I think there's a risk that we leave too soon. We do want to turn this back over to the Iraqis, but we want to do this right. We're going to need to show patience. We might turn this over to perhaps an interim authority, but it's vital that this interim authority doesn't become the final authority. Under such a scenario, the interim authority would only become the permanent authority, and then you have a puppet government.

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