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Chicago’s Nobel laureate on the Counterinsurgency Field Manual

jacket imageUniversity of Chicago economics professor Roger B. Myerson, who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences this week, is working on a paper critiquing U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq. The paper, “Foundations of the State in Theory and Practice: Reading Bremer and the Counterinsurgency Field Manual” (see PDF draft version) examines two texts. The first is L. Paul Bremer’s My Year in Iraq, his memoir of the fourteen months he was head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, charged with Iraq reconstruction. The second text is The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual.
Both books, says Myerson, “express theories of the foundations of the constitutional state. Their theories have been used to guide practical policy-making in the reconstruction of Iraq, but we should also read them as exercises in social theory. … I want to examine the theories of nation-building that are expressed by Bremer and the Field Manual.
Myerson criticizes the fundamental strategy that was followed by Bremer: “a democratic state must be based on a written constitution.” In fact, says Myerson,

constitutional democracies are not necessarily established this way. The British parliamentary system developed without any formal constitutional document, and America adopted a constitution several years after the revolution, when people wanted to expand the power of the central government. So there must be something else in society, other than a formal constitutional document, that can provide effective checks on the powers of political leaders.

“The state is established by its political leaders and their network of trusting supporters,” says Myerson, and not by a formal document.
In critiquing The Counterinsurgency Field Manual, Myerson notes that while the Field Manual recognizes “the vital importance of the network of trust among leaders and their cadre of active supporters” among the insurgents that U.S. forces are trying to defeat, the Field Manual fails to recognize that “the network of political leadership is equally vital to the state that the counterinsurgents are trying to establish.”
Myerson concludes that the strategies expressed in both texts ignore the critical role played by political leadership:

The first step in a project of democratic state-building should have been to encourage individual politicians to develop independent reputations for responsible and tolerant governance. To build effective government against violent opposition, the problem is not to provide a clean administration without favoritism but to make sure that favoritism is effectively managed by political leaders whose judgments are trusted by their supporters.

(Tip of the hat to the Chicago Tribune.)