Is Iraq the Next Afghanistan?

At the onset of the US-led war in Iraq, two competing views shaped predictions about the outcome. The first contended that overthrowing Saddam Hussein's regime would usher in a democratic era in Iraq that would serve as a model and catalyst for democratic change regionally.

Derided by detractors as a new "domino theory," this view presented intervention in Iraq as similar to America's role in post-WWII Japan. Against the optimism of that "Japan scenario," pessimists argued that a "Somalia scenario" was more likely. They staked their claim on the tribal, sectarian, and multiethnic nature of Iraq, which, in the absence of dictatorship, would supposedly incite Iraq's collapse into a "failed state," with rampant warlordism, ethnic and religious feuds, and harboring of terrorist organizations.

But the main question now is whether Iraq will drift along lines somewhere between these two scenarios, increasingly resembling Afghanistan. This "Afghan scenario" implies a weak state with nominal power over effectively autonomous fiefdoms that are headed by strongmen who are represented in the central government.

Bad as it sounds, this prospect appears to be a "realistic" compromise between the supposedly utopian vision of a flourishing, unified democracy and the wretchedness of a failed state. Many of the actions and policies of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), as well as higher-level Bush administration decisions, seem to point to a resigned acceptance that early hopes that Iraq would embrace Western-style democracy were misplaced.