Why this administration is losing me on Iraq
The day after the fall of Baghdad, I posted: For Operation Iraqi Freedom to succeed, military victories must be followed up with humanitarian victories. It’s not enough to defeat Saddam’s regime, there needs to be tangible evidence that conditions are improving. Ten days later, I posted the following dilemma for the administration: Rumsfeld, and the ...
The day after the fall of Baghdad, I posted:
The day after the fall of Baghdad, I posted:
For Operation Iraqi Freedom to succeed, military victories must be followed up with humanitarian victories. It’s not enough to defeat Saddam’s regime, there needs to be tangible evidence that conditions are improving.
Ten days later, I posted the following dilemma for the administration:
Rumsfeld, and the rest of the Bush administration’s foreign policy team, face a clear choice. It can outsource peacekeeping functions to the United Nations or close allies, at the cost of some constraints on foreign policy implementation. It can minimize the U.N. role and develop/train its own peacekeeping force. Or it can do neither and run into trouble down the road.
What’s becoming increasingly clear to me is that the administration has yet to solve this particular dilemma — and that this will have disastrous implications for Iraq. As Martin Walker points out today (link via Josh Marshall):
Quite apart from issues of Arab resentment, religion and the remaining bands of Saddam Hussein loyalists, there is one simple reason why the stabilization of Iraq is proving so frustratingly difficult. By comparison with other similar peacekeeping missions in recent years, the place is very seriously under-policed. Consider the Balkans. In proportion to their populations, three times as many troops were deployed in Kosovo as in Iraq, and in Bosnia twice as many. By Kosovo standards, there ought to be more than half a million troops in Iraq. But maintaining 180,000 British and American troops in Iraq is putting intense strain on the military manpower of both countries. There is no serious prospect of their deploying any more. Reinforcement will have to come from other countries — and in far greater numbers than the 70 Ukrainian soldiers who flew in Sunday.
That’s the same message that comes from this RAND book I mentioned last week. Now, there are a few ways to deal with this problem. One is to go to the U.N. to get more allied support. Marshall elides over the fact that Walker does not think that’s the greatest idea in the world, and Reuel Marc Gerecht provides some compelling reasons in the Weekly Standard why such a step would be problematic at best. So the U.N. option is problematic. The ad hoc approach is not generating the desired numbers (link courtesy of &c). That leaves two options: a) increase U.S. forces (which the administration seems bound and determined not to do); or b) create an Iraqi force that can assist the occupying authority. It looks like the administration is choosing option (b), which could work in the long run. In the short run, however, there’s a Catch-22, as Michael Gordon points out:
Coalition officials assert that they are beginning to get traction in their effort to build a new Iraq. The next few months, a coalition official said, are critical to the push to develop momentum and garner Iraqi support. But this is a nation-building effort that is distinctly different from the one the United States and its allies pursued in the Balkans. In Kosovo, for example, nation-building began after the war. In Iraq, the nation-building effort is being carried out in the middle of a guerrilla war. The effort to build a new Iraq has been actively opposed by paramilitary forces loyal to the Saddam Hussein regime, by foreign fighters, saboteurs, terrorists and to a lesser extent by ordinary Iraqis who have been offended by some of the hard-nosed American military tactics. (emphasis added)
The paradox is that unless guerrilla activity is reduced, the provision of public goods will be difficult at best. However, the best way to reduce such activity is to provide more public goods. Unless the administration dispatches more resources — including troops — to Iraq, what happened in Basra earlier this week will happen again. The Washington Post explains:
In interviews, residents of Iraq’s second-largest city almost uniformly expressed anger and incredulity at the shortages of gasoline and electricity and the skyrocketing black-market prices that have accompanied them. British officials in Basra, openly frustrated themselves, questioned the priorities of the U.S.-led reconstruction. And many feared that remnants of Hussein’s government or militant Shiite Muslim groups were prepared to capitalize on the disenchantment…. [British spokesman Iain] Pickard acknowledged that there was “an understandable degree of frustration” and complained that British officials’ priorities in Basra — power, water and fuel — are not shared to the same degree by U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad. “It seems so bureaucratic. It’s so difficult to get things going,” he said from a building that had been looted of everything but its windows before the British moved in. “We have not had a great deal of say. We don’t feel we’ve been able to influence the reconstruction program.” He pointed to a U.S.-funded project to renovate 200 schools in the region. While admirable, Pickard said, “painting schools isn’t going to stop people from rioting.”
Paul Bremer thinks the coalition successes in Iraq are being underplayed, and he’s probably right. No matter what those successes are, however, rising discontent in Baghdad and Basra are not a recipe for success. Until the administration renews its commitment to a free and stable Iraq, things will fall apart.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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