Sunday, April 04, 2004

On nation-building in Iraq

Devastating critique and analysis by Anthony Cordesman, CSIS fellow and frequent military expert seen on ABC, in the Washington Post today. His conclusion is sober: we have to "accept the fact there will be many more horrifying images to come, that we face at least another year of war, and that we need bipartisan support for both continued conflict and nation-building." However, he neglects to mention any substantive suggestions as to how exactly the U.S. can succeed in nation-building. Bipartisan suport won't cut it; I suspect nothing will.

Here's a worthwhile excerpt:

"...Iraq affects vital American strategic interests. Regardless of whether the United States should have invaded Iraq, the fact is that it did. Its power and prestige are now on the line. It also has stakes in the future of allied leaders in Britain, Australia, Italy, Spain, Poland and many other countries. Its influence in the Persian Gulf -- with some 60 percent of the world's proven reserves of crude oil -- is at risk, as is its strategic position in the rest of the Middle East. If the United States abandons Iraq, it hands Islamic extremists all over the world a decisive victory, and effectively makes Osama bin Laden the victor -- regardless of what happens to him and al Qaeda.

Must the United States remain in Iraq until it succeeds there? No. If the Iraqis reject U.S. support through their own government or if they engage in civil war, no one will fault the United States for exiting. In every other scenario, however, withdrawal will be a serious defeat.

Much of the reason that the United States now faces a war after the war is that senior officials in the Bush administration indulged in a neoconservative fantasy that Saddam's regime would crumble in ways that allowed unknown and unpopular Iraqi exiles to govern. It did not plan to secure the country once the Iraqi armed forces were defeated. Its initial nation-building plans were little more than a sick joke that prepared for burning oil fields and a food crisis, but not for rebuilding a nation of 26 million devastated by 30 years of dictatorship, and more than 20 years of sanctions and war. The U.S. military had to change its scheme for a few months of relatively peaceful occupation into a plan for years of fighting a low-level conflict. The National Security Council and the interagency process failed to prepare for conflict termination in ways far more serious than any failures to defend the United States from the 9/11 attacks. Paul L. Bremer and the people appointed to the Coalition Provisional Authority inherited an intellectual and logistical vacuum, and have had to improvise ever since."

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