DOING WHAT IT TAKES

Robert Kagan and William Kristol join the chorus saying we need to “do more” in Iraq. Echoing Thomas Friedman’s column of this morning, they note the magnitude of the task:

Make no mistake: The president’s vision will, in the coming months, either be launched successfully in Iraq, or it will die in Iraq. Indeed, there is more at stake in Iraq than even this vision of a better, safer Middle East. The future course of American foreign policy, American world leadership, and American security is at stake. Failure in Iraq would be a devastating blow to everything the United States hopes to accomplish, and must accomplish, in the decades ahead.

We believe the president and his top advisers understand the magnitude of the task. That is why it is so baffling that, up until now, the Bush administration has failed to commit resources to the rebuilding of Iraq commensurate with these very high stakes. Certainly, American efforts in Iraq since the end of the war have not been a failure. And considering what might have gone wrong–and which so many critics predicted would go wrong–the results have been in many ways admirable. Iraq has not descended into inter-religious and inter-ethnic violence. There is food and water. Hospitals are up and running. The Arab and Muslim worlds have not erupted in chaos or anger, as so many of our European friends confidently predicted.

But the absence of catastrophic failure is not, unfortunately, evidence of impending success. As any number of respected analysts visiting Iraq have reported, and as recent horrific events have demonstrated, there is much to worry about. Basic security, both for Iraqis and for coalition and other international workers in Iraq, is lacking. Continuing power shortages throughout much of the country have damaged the reputation of the United States as a responsible occupying power and have led many Iraqis to question American intentions. Ongoing assassinations and sabotage of public utilities by pro-Saddam forces and, possibly, by terrorists entering the country from neighboring Syria and Iran threaten to destabilize the tenuous peace that has held in Iraq since the end of the war.

All this is, I believe, true. The questions are 1) how could it have been done better and 2) how do we fix it at this point.

As to the first question, the obvious answers are that it would have been better had we had massive help from the international community and/or a few more divisions of U.S. troops. The problem with these obvious answers is they aren’t very helpful. Massive help from the international community was not forthcoming. France, Russia, and others opposed the mission, and no amount of additional inspections or added months of waiting around and pleading were going to change that. And, not only don’t we have substantially more troops for the mission, it is not entirely clear how helpful they would have been. As Brit Hume noted this morning, more troops equals more targets.

Kagan and Kristol argue that we could have solved the power grid problem if we simply had committed sufficient funds. I’m afraid I lack their vast knowledge of engineering and therefore can’t rebut that assertion. It does strike me as somewhat implausible if, as Secretary Rumsfeld has claimed, the grids have suffered from decades of neglect. After all, it took several days to get the power grids in our own northeast functioning recently–and they’re in pretty good shape.

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. markus says:

    I disagree with your reasoning on point one.
    At least in Germany, the mission was always about WMD, and as foreign minister Fischer aptly said, we were not convinced. I’ve since May come to understand the PNAC mission and I for one can say I’m not opposed to it in principle. But, that wasn’t how the issue was discussed in Germany. AFAIK opposition to the war was mostly due to the fact that people reasoned, the inspectors could provide or eliminate the cause for war, either by finding WMD or pronouncing Iraq free of WMD.
    It may be that our government mislead us regarding the real nature of the mission, but IMO that assumes the US is unable to communicate its true goals to a friendly nation. Assuming the diplomatic effort was _lousy_ makes much more sense IMO.
    Especially considering the recent offer at the UN to allow some foreign troops to take some bullets.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Markus,

    France, at least, opposed the mission largely because it fears U.S. expansionism and seeks to contain U.S. power. Germany and others were largely unconvinceable on the WMD issue. As you say, they believed Blix and his teams adequately addressed that issue. Bush and Co. felt otherwise and believed time had come to move. That position may turn out to be incorrect, but the fact remains there wasn’t going to be support from the U.N.

  3. Paul says:

    As Brit Hume noted this morning, more troops equals more targets.

    I’ve been saying that for months. (on your blog)

    Even if we doubles the number of troops, how would that signifigantly change the troop to populaion ratio?

    It is more complicated than that, but Americans quit accepting complicated answers about a decade ago. (or maybe more)

    Paul

  4. markus says:

    @ James
    “unconvinceable” is a kind word in light of the evidence found so far. Anyway, I’m not sure whether I made myself clear enough based on your answer. IMO the problem is that a lot of people thought Iraq was about WMD in the first place. If so, it was natural to assume that not finding them after a long search eliminates the case for war. Under the PNAC reasoning the WMD don’t matter, the problem is the regime and its future intentions.
    IMO the principle of preventive (not preemptive) war was always discussed contingent on WMD. IMO, it should have been discussed separately, in terms of a change of international law after 9-11.

    solutions: IMO Kagan’s and Kristol’s suggestions of more non-military personel make little sense with the security situations the way it is.
    @ Paul
    a recent study for the DoD said there are only about two months left to turn around the situation. IIRC their reasoning was that there is a general resentment to US presence (coupled with joy at seing Saddam gone) and if people don’t see benefits from US presence soon their resentment will become strong enough to make them support those currently attacking the US. IMO that means a situation similar to Palestine is around the corner.
    IMO international support is the fastest way to avoid that, if not the only. Plus, AFAIK the UN is more popular than the US in the middle east, so UN involvement might lessen the resentment among the population a little, which in turn might give a little more time.

    apart from that, what’s wrong with more troops=more security=quicker restoration of basic services=better chance of winning hearts and minds?
    I couldn’t find the Hume piece, but he can’t seriously be claiming that more troops would worsen the security situation, can he?