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Hopes and Fears in Post War Iraq - 2003-07-31

US senators of both political parties sharply questioned Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz at a recent hearing. They asked for a better idea of how long the US occupation of Iraq will last and what it will cost. The United States is now spending four billion dollars a month to maintain 150,000 troops in Iraq. Conditions remain unsettled with daily attacks on US forces, some of them fatal.

Republican Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the US Foreign Relations Committee said "Because of some combination of bureaucratic inertia, political caution and unrealistic expectations left over from before the war, we do not appear to be confident about our course in Iraq."

The senators, among others, have criticized post war planning in Washington. Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former policy planning director at the US State Department, says leaders customarily prepare for the wrong war. In this case, they prepared for the wrong peace.

Gary Sick, Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, likens the planning to a kind of covert operation. “The planning was done in a very haphazard, last-minute way with planning only for worst case scenarios: the use of chemical weapons, last minute genocide by Saddam's people, burning of the oil fields, famine. Those things did not happen, and it may be that some of the advance planning helped to insure that those worst case scenarios did not happen, and if so, that's fine,” says Mr. Sick. “But there were lots of other things that were also very predictable, and among those were looting and structural violence, especially by the people who were being thrown out of office.”

Mr. Sick and others say the US Defense Department played too prominent a role in post war planning, in particular a group within the Pentagon called the Office of Special Plans that was composed largely of so-called neo-conservatives. “There is no question that this was a hand-selected group, very shadowy, no official acknowledgement of what it did and how it was doing it, staffed with people who were known to be ideologically-oriented who were distrustful of the State Department and the CIA. They were basically running their own intelligence system and had a direct line to very important people.”

Mr. Sick says ideology overcame reality in the Pentagon's post war planning.

Bruce Jackson, President of the Project on Transitional Democracies and a firm supporter of the war in Iraq, says failures in postwar planning cannot be denied. But consider what planners faced. “These are fundamentally new tasks that came up rapidly after September 11. I think it is very hard to fault soldiers and civilians for a mission that they were never given in the first place,” says Mr. Jackson. “They did the best they could under extreme duress while conducting a war on terror to assemble the original thinking about how to support free Iraq after the war. I think it is laudable that they stood up and tried to do that.”

Mr. Jackson says it is too easy to single out particular people to blame for what requires a national shift in policy and planning. The United States, he says, has not put major emphasis on nation building. “To say that they did not get it right is a truism. But I think the Congress will look back on this period and decide that they probably need to give our State Department and our Defense Department more tools and more assets if we are going to ask them to do strategic planning for reconstruction and democratization projects of this large a scale.”

Mr. Jackson and others hasten to add that post war reconstruction of a defeated and prostrate nation takes time and patience. Amid the ruins of Germany after World War Two, pessimism was rampant. It was understandable but soon gave way to steady progress.

What do Iraqis themselves say? A recent study conducted by the National Democratic Institute finds that most Iraqis, while displaying much anti-American and anti-Jewish sentiment, are rather positive about their future. They are concerned about crime and lack of access to US authorities, but they look forward to a representative government based on rule of law.

A 25-member governing council assembled by the United States in consultation with Iraqis stresses the unity of Iraq and emphatically denies the nation will splinter along communal lines. James Dobbins, director of international security and defense policy at the Rand Corporation, has served as a special US envoy to states in the process of rebuilding. He says “at the moment, the centrifugal forces that one might have anticipated - Shias and Sunnis going in two different directions and Kurds trying to set up a separate state - none of that has occurred, and so the prospects are reasonably good. But the real question is whether the United States with the support of those Iraqi institutions that it is able to create can establish security. That's what the people want.”

Gary Sick agrees that if security is achieved and confidence restored, political progress is possible under a functioning governing council that represents key elements of Iraq. “It's really a mistake, as this governing council has pointed out, to categorize everybody as Sunni, Shia, Kurd and assume that they form some kind of a monolithic bloc where they share their politics. In fact, there are Shia communists, and there are Sunni atheists and there are people who are on all sides of the political spectrum. The real issue is political orientation much more than it is communal orientation.”

Mr. Sick notes factional fighting is just as likely within the Shia community as between Shias and Sunnis.

Once there are visible signs of progress, says Mr. Sick, Iraqis can start reclaiming their government. “At that point, the more moderate people can begin to assert themselves, organize themselves, make themselves heard and begin to have an influence on events. When things are in a state of chaos, as they have been since the fall of Baghdad,” says Mr. Sick, “the hard-liners and radicals tend to be the ones who get heard because they are the ones who make the most noise.”

Bruce Jackson, among others, says the United States needs the help of other nations in reconstructing Iraq and will get it. Internationalization has already begun with the pledge of small numbers of troops and police from some 30 countries.

This is not a hit-and-run intervention, says Mr. Jackson, but a sustained effort to rebuild a long oppressed country. “I'm just struck with the parallels between Iraq reconstruction and Balkan reconstruction. In less than eight years after our intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo, every single nation in the Balkans is in some phase of reintegration into Europe. I would expect that we will be able to better that record in Iraq. I would assume that within substantially less than eight years we are going to see Iraq well on its way into the institutions of world politics.”

Once Iraq is there, says Bruce Jackson, it will be less vulnerable to the intrusions of its neighbors and in fact may contribute to the liberalization of Iran by setting an example of democratic government. We tend to overstate our present fears, says Mr. Jackson, and understate our long-term strengths.