BEYOND NATION BUILDING

Donald Rumsfeld has an op-ed in today’s WaPo with that title. His intro is intriguing:

Two weeks into Operation Iraqi Freedom, a number of newspapers and many airwaves were filled with prognosticators declaring the war plan a failure. The United States, they said, did not do enough to build international support, did not properly anticipate the level of resistance by Iraqis, and failed to send enough forces to do the job.

Then coalition forces took Baghdad in 21 days. Today Gen. Tom Franks’s innovative and flexible war plan, which so many dismissed as a failure, is being studied by military historians and taught in war colleges.

Today in Iraq, an innovative plan is also being implemented in our effort to win the peace. And it should come as no surprise that we are again hearing suggestions as to why the postwar effort is on the brink of failure.

It will take longer than 21 days, but I believe that the plan to win the peace in Iraq will succeed — just as the plan to win the war succeeded.

A fair point. My problem, though, is that I am generically confident in the ability of our military planners to plan combat operations. We are by far the best in the world at waging war. We have, however, virtually no history of successful nation building. There is no example that I can think of since Japan.

Rumsfeld counters,

Once again, what the coalition is doing is unfamiliar and different from many past “nation-building” efforts. So, when the coalition faces the inevitable surprises and setbacks, the assumption is that the underlying strategy is failing. ***

Today in Iraq we are operating on the same guiding principle that has brought success to our effort in Afghanistan: Iraq and Afghanistan belong to the Iraqi and Afghan peoples — the United States does not aspire to own or run those countries.

During the war in Afghanistan, this philosophy helped shape the military campaign. Instead of sending a massive invasion force, we kept the coalition footprint modest and adopted a strategy of teaming with local Afghan forces that opposed the Taliban. The use of precision-guided weapons and the immediate delivery of humanitarian relief sent the message that we were coming as a force of liberation. And after the major fighting ended, we did not flood Afghanistan with Americans but rather worked with Afghans to establish an interim government and an Afghan national army.

***

We have made solid progress: Within two months, all major Iraqi cities and most towns had municipal councils — something that took eight months in postwar Germany. Within four months the Iraqi Governing Council had appointed a cabinet — something that took 14 months in Germany. An independent Iraqi Central Bank was established and a new currency announced in just two months — accomplishments that took three years in postwar Germany. Within two months a new Iraqi police force was conducting joint patrols with coalition forces. Within three months, we had begun training a new Iraqi army — and today some 56,000 are participating in the defense of their country. By contrast, it took 14 months to establish a police force in Germany and 10 years to begin training a new German army.

This is certainly encouraging. Many would say that Rumsfeld overstates our achievements in Afghanistan, given the continued activity of guerilla forces and lack of border control with Pakistan. But, given the starting point, both campaigns have gone reasonaby well. The question is where we go from here.

The down side of the “we have a plan–trust us” argument is that it would be much more persuasive if the plan itself were outlined in something more than vague generalities. It would also be useful to have some signposts as to what constitutes success. These operations are unpredictable, and precise “by the three month point, X, Y, and Z should happen” goals are unrealistic. But we should have some idea of what’s going on. Otherwise, journalists who have no clue whatsoever about these operations are going to continue to report setbacks that may not even be setbacks. And it won’t be their fault; it’ll be the Administration’s.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Paul says:

    The down side of the “we have a plan–trust us” argument is that it would be much more persuasive if the plan itself were outlined in something more than vague generalities.

    People said that of the war plan and it worked just fine. Releasing your plan in this case is folly. If a football coach was 9-1 going into the last 6 games would it be realistic to ask for his game plan or imply he did not have one?

    It would also be useful to have some signposts as to what constitutes success. … we should have some idea of what’s going on.

    Maybe you missed the signposts:

    We have made solid progress: Within two months, all major Iraqi cities and most towns had municipal councils — something that took eight months in postwar Germany. Within four months the Iraqi Governing Council had appointed a cabinet — something that took 14 months in Germany. An independent Iraqi Central Bank was established and a new currency announced in just two months — accomplishments that took three years in postwar Germany. Within two months a new Iraqi police force was conducting joint patrols with coalition forces. Within three months, we had begun training a new Iraqi army — and today some 56,000 are participating in the defense of their country. By contrast, it took 14 months to establish a police force in Germany and 10 years to begin training a new German army.

    Call me a simpleton but it sound like exactly what you are asking for. Realistically what more could you ask for?

    The psychic friends network to predict every turn of events?

  2. James Joyner says:

    In the combat phase, we had a pretty clear goal: To depose Saddam’s regime. It needs to be clear in this phase what the goals are–other than “Middle East stability,” since that is an unattainable goal.

    Pointing to milestones post hoc doesn’t do much on the P.R. front. In order to sustain popular support for this campaign over the years that it’s going to be happening–not to mention all the money–requires the articulation of short, medium, and long range goals.

    It also needs to be explained why it is that, now that Saddam is gone, we can’t just get out of there and leave the nation building to the Iraqis. I think there’s a case to be made for staying and setting up the government ourselves, but it needs to be made.

  3. Rummy on nation building
    Good stuff from the master and he’ll say “Raar!” if you disagree….