Winning the Post-Postwar

That’s the title of Jackson Diehl‘s piece in today’s WaPo. He fears Bush and Co. aren’t planning adequately for the transition, and suggests they pay attention to the work of a think tank:

One group with ideas is the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, headed by Frederick Barton and Bathsheba Crocker, two veterans of the State Department, United Nations and National Security Council. Their aim has been to draw up a list of specific conditions that would be present in a successful Iraq, each of which could serve as a barometer of progress.

“It’s not a nation-building model,” says Barton. “One of the weaknesses in Iraq is that the coalition effort has been bureaucratized to bring order out of chaos, which is probably more admirable than achievable. What you are really trying to do is steer chaos in the right direction.” Success should be measured not by whether ideal political conditions are created, he says, but by whether there is movement toward “a tipping point where you can start to hold people responsible.”

Rather than focusing on institutions, the parameters describe the experience of Iraqi citizens. Barton and Crocker have written eight statements that “an average Iraqi must be in a position to make in order for reconstruction to succeed.” The first, predictably, is: “I can travel around my city or town without fear of attack.” The next, “I have a means of income.” Those that follow cover expectations that crimes will be prosecuted, that religious and ethnic groups will not be persecuted, that children will be able to go to school, that hospitals and clinics will provide health care, that there will be religious freedom. And: “I have some say in who governs me and how they do so.”

Crocker points out that the U.S. occupation administration tends to quantify progress by how many attacks are launched daily against U.S. troops, how many Iraqi security forces have been trained or how many megawatts of electricity are produced. Although they have some meaning, such statistics don’t really show whether life for Iraqis is getting better or whether the political situation is moving in the right direction. If the focus remains on them, the administration could end up using its aid money and diminishing political leverage for the wrong ends.

Crocker and Barton say concentration on their list would lead to some smaller-scale and decentralized tactics. Rather than try to repair the entire Iraqi electricity grid by summer, it might be better to import more small generators to areas where blackouts are chronic. More attention might be paid to setting up accountable and representative local governments in cities and towns, while lowering expectations for what the first national government might accomplish.

Most important is encouraging civic participation by as many Iraqis as possible so that over time, a genuine civil society and democratic political movements can grow from the ground up. That, of course, will take patience and staying power. The danger is that, in the absence of clear goals or measures of success, pressure will grow in Washington to declare an arbitrary victory and withdraw. “Don’t give these new leaders too much to do too soon,” advises Barton. The corollary is: Be prepared to stay until they are able to deliver.

I have no technical expertise in infrastructure rebuilding but these suggestions seem plausible enough. My guess is that folks in the State Department, National Security Council staff, and the DoD are working on very similar plans.

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. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.