What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation Building

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What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation Building

By Noah Feldman
Princeton University Press, 2004
200 pp. $19.95
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What are, and what should be, the legal and ethical norms governing the U.S. role in Iraq? Feldman's answer, set within a crisp and provocative examination of international law and historical experiences with colonialism, trusteeships, and mandates, is that having broken the Iraqi government, Washington has an obligation to bring about a new and better one. The United States, with the United Nations and allies if and as feasible, should assume the role of the "nonpaternalistic nation builder," whose primary responsibility is to "impose security... to prevent civil war or anarchy" and then to organize elections to set the stage for eventual withdrawal. Feldman weaves into his argument perceptive accounts of the U.S. experience in Iraq (where he served as a legal adviser) in 2003 and 2004 and wrestles with the kinds of observations the realist school of international relations would raise. He notes in passing that the United States owes Iraq a better job of nation building than the British provided after World War I. At this point, however, many Americans and Iraqis might settle for one that is merely no worse.