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Books

Can Might Make Rights? by Jane Stromseth, David Wippman and Rosa Brooks

Mark Yost
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

Critics love armchair quarterbacking the war on terrorism, but a new book shows just how hard it is to get it right the first time.


Can Might Make Rights?

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Subtitle: Building the Rule of Law After Military Interventions
Author: Rosa Brooks
Price: $29.95
Display Artist: Jane Stromseth, David Wippman and Rosa Brooks
Length: 304
Formats: Paperback
ISBN: 0521678013
US publication date: 2006-08
Amazon

Critics love armchair quarterbacking the war on terrorism, but a new book shows just how hard it is to get it right the first time. Can Might Make Rights? Building the Rule of Law After Military Interventions is a bit wonkish, but a must-read if you want to understand the challenges we face.

Iraq, of course, is not the first humanitarian military intervention, and it won't be the last. That's why the framework laid out in this book is so important. As the authors make clear, there are a number of fundamental reforms that are necessary to establish the rule of law in post-intervention societies. Security, judicial reform, and a competent, uncorrupted police force are three, each with its own challenges. Unfortunately, in the day-to-day reporting out of Iraq, we hear mostly about the car bombs and kidnappings, the tools the terrorists are using to undermine the legitimate goals and efforts of the new Iraqi government and its coalition partners.

The authors detail what went wrong in previous less-than-perfect (Is there any other kind?) international efforts, from East Timor to Somalia to Bosnia. They also draw parallels to Iraq and Afghanistan and show how the lessons we learned in the past are being applied, and forgotten, today.

"Public order, at least outside of a police state, rests on a societal consensus about the legitimacy of state institutions and confidence in the capacity of such institutions to deliver basic services," the authors write.

This, of course, is exactly where we find ourselves in Iraq today. The United States and the Iraqi government are working toward these goals, while the terrorists are working against them. Stuck in the middle are the Iraqi people, who are being asked in the span of just a few years to put their trust in the very institutions that terrorized them for decades.

The police are the face of the new Iraqi government most often seen by the citizenry. The challenges are not unlike those in Kosovo, where peacekeepers struggled to put together a police force that was both respected by and representative of the multiethnic society.

"A predicament for interveners in Kosovo and elsewhere is eliciting support from those who fought and ultimately prevailed in the conflict and now seek jobs. In East Timor, for example, community resentments still fester over the inclusion of some prior police from the period of Indonesian occupation, particularly when so many who actively supported the anti-occupation resistance remain unemployed."

Extrapolating from those experiences, the authors argue that the Iraqi government "must not simply pursue spoilers; it must do so in a culturally acceptable way, while simultaneously building the capacity and political support for the Iraqi government." Again, easier said than done.

The ultimate message of this very well written and highly readable book is that an international force can go in knowing everything it must do, but that this doesn't guarantee success.

"This is not an optimistic book," the authors candidly conclude. That's because, in many of these countries, the rule of law is "elusive to begin with, and striving for the rule of law requires a constant juggling act on the part of the interveners. It is little wonder that so many past efforts in this area have been so disappointing."

In short, an open-minded reader will come away with a clear understanding that success or failure in Iraq comes down to a more sophisticated understanding of geopolitics than "Bush lied, people died."

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