While policymakers talk about the pros and cons of waging war against Iraq, many U.S. scholars are already looking beyond the military phase to the repercussions of ousting Saddam Hussein from power.
When political analysts talk about the potential for democratic reform inside Iraq, they have a long list of obstacles.
Thomas Carothers directs the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Washington-based research firm Carnegie Endowment. He says any reform efforts would be slow and difficult to achieve. "Moreover, Iraq has a number of underlying conditions, such as the ethnic and religious divides in the country, the long tradition of military intervention in politics, the lack of any significant experience with pluralism and a one resource-dependent economy that are bound to make democratization difficult," said Thomas Carothers.
So, analysts ask, would an invasion spur democratic reforms inside Iraq?
Conservative analyst Patrick Clawson of the American Enterprise Institute told a recent forum that Iraq's political future should be left to Iraqis to work out for themselves. He favors a speedy handover of authority to an Iraqi transition team. "We have to let the Iraqi people do what they want to do and to think we should have a heavy United States role a la Bosnia is wrong," said Patrick Clawson. "We should have a light intervention a la Afghanistan and let the people make their own mistakes."
Other analysts insist that a long-term U.S. presence is needed to establish and maintain an orderly environment for political reforms to take hold and safeguard regional stability.
They also point to a likely power struggle between Iraqis in the country who survived Saddam Hussein's authority and exiles who return after his ouster.
Carnegie Endowment analyst Marina Ottaway cautions that the U.S.and other Western governments must be prepared to deal with change in Iraq even if it does not meet their expectations. "The former Soviet republics in Central Asia do not look today the way they looked when they were part of the Soviet Union," she said. "But that does not mean they are democratic or that they are any closer to democracy than they were then."
Looking beyond Iraq's borders, Iran expert Daniel Brumberg of Georgetown University dismisses those who expect that a regime change in Iraq would automatically unleash a democratic wave across the region. "I think the notion of a regime collapse in Iran, that's really a mirage," he said. "We have to look at and take seriously the reform movements in Iran."
The Iran expert also points to political and social reforms slowly emerging in Bahrain and Qatar and contrasts them with tightly-controlled societies like Saudi Arabia that are resistant to change.
Political analyst Ottaway stresses the role of the international community in encouraging political and social reform inside and outside Iraq. But she worries that the Arab media's current focus on linking democratic change to U.S. military intervention discredits U.S. and international support for reform efforts across the region.