Thursday, August 23, 2007

And what about Iraq?

It is hard to be an American these days and not think about Iraq - every day. Not to talk about it too much with family, friends and co-workers (it is too depressing) but to think about it. On the evening news in our living room - Senator John Warner breaks ranks with President Bush; a family's second son dies in combat - will the third son who is home on leave go back to his unit or claim exemption under the policy that no family need risk more than one son in combat at once; a National Intelligence Estimate doesn't estimate the capacity of the Maliki administration in Baghdad very highly at all.

So, what about Iraq from a Caux Round Table point of view?

I would start any such analysis with our ethical Principles for Government - our suggested basis for justice and civil peace in all nations.

Our fundamental principle is that public office is a public trust.

Good government is about trust - having the trust of the people for discretionary decisions; trusting the people; holding power as a trust - not for personal, ideological, sectarian, special interest reasons - but to serve those who depend on government for weal or woe, giving them security and opportunity.

Iraq today just doesn't have much trust; its supposed national government is not a public trust for most of the people. Some 2 million Iraqis who value stable, just civil society have fled the violence and sectarian killings. Those who remain don't evince much capacity to trust other Iraqis.

So from the CRT perspective, Iraq doesn't have in place the first principle of good government. Starting from that point and trying to get somewhere closer to having the writ of effective good government run throughout the country seems rather hard to do.

Steve Young


Anonymous said...

We learned a lot about the public trust in the study "Aiming High: Renewing Trust in a Time of Suspicion." First, big problems, like Iraq, are not so much the causes for public suspicion as ciphers for other institutional breakdowns. The public experiences political impotence locally (infrastructure that fails, like in New Orleans, or bridges that collapse). Larger crises then become reinforcements for those more personal encounters with civic ineptitude. Much of the war debate is about what to do in Iraq. The tragedy there deserves priority. But the efficacy in changing perceptions and possibilities abroad hinges on domestic hopes, experiences and expectations. It is not only Iraq that is broken, and that needs fixing.

What we also learned in the trust study - and this speaks to the CRT contribution - is that public confidence-building requires a combination of basic competence (doing what is promised) and higher aspiration (doing what is worthy of being done). Since 9/11 we have had a social economy circulating much more suspicion than trust. Globally, we need proofs that practical programs of social responsibility actually work. And we need to renew the validity and cogency of ideals so as to call forth other possibilities.

A final observation from some of our respondents worth sharing is that they believe they have lots of reasons and supports for regarding politicians and business leaders with suspicion. But they also acknowledge that this lets them off the hook. Trusting-nobody is an excuse for doing your own thing. Since we can't trust that leaders will do anything about global warming or homelessness, then we can keep driving our cars and ignoring those that need help. The folly of not trusting one another is that we end up deceiving ourselves.

Caux Round Table said...


How sound is your conclusion. If we don't foster habits of trust, of being trustworthy, the point of civilization seems to recede to the horizon, or at least, towards more primitive circumstances.