TCS Daily

How Many Iraqs?

By Gregory Scoblete - January 31, 2006 12:00 AM

Is the Iraq war and its insurgency-plagued reconstruction a singular event in U.S. foreign policy or a harbinger of future missions as the "generational challenge" of the war on terror unfolds?

The administration has been asking itself the same question and has arrived at an untenable answer: both.

On the one hand, the government seems to be reorienting itself around the notion that Iraq is but one of several possible military engagements that will require a prolonged U.S. presence to reconstitute order and stand-up democratic institutions. Since President Bush's second Inaugural Address, democracy promotion has vaulted to the top of the U.S. agenda (at least rhetorically). Making that strategic commitment a reality -- while incorporating the lessons learned from Iraq -- has spurred the Administration to institutionalize and strengthen America's nation-building capacity.

The effort began at the State Department. On August 5, 2004, then Secretary of State Colin Powell created the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) "to enhance our nation's institutional capacity to respond to crises involving failing, failed, and post-conflict states and complex emergencies."

Current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who used to speak contemptuously of nation building, has promised an "expansive vision" for the new office, claiming that it will "spring into action" not simply after an American military conquest but whenever a "state fails." Given the multitude of failed and failing states, this is an expansive mandate indeed.

The president himself said the office would serve "an essential mission: helping the world's newest democracies make the transition to peace and freedom and a market economy."

The Pentagon has also gotten into the act. On November 28, 2005 Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England signed a directive stating that "stability operations are a core U.S. military mission that the Department of Defense shall be prepared to conduct and support. They shall be given priority comparable to combat operations and be explicitly addressed and integrated across all DoD activities..."

For a military establishment that has often chaffed at the responsibilities of peace-keeping, the document signaled a momentous shift.

Or did it?

According to reports dribbling out in advance of the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the military will not, in the artful formulation of the LA Times, be fighting the last war. A defense department official quoted by the Times said that the Iraq war was "clearly a one-off." The result, according to reports, will be a QDR that proposes a military designed to defeat nation states, not rebuild them. The Army will not increase its end strength -- the potential number of "boots on the ground" necessary for the manpower-intensive missions envisioned by Secretary Rice and President Bush.

Over at the State Department, the S/CSR's budget is similarly out of sync with the president's professed goals. In the event its services are needed, S/CSR is projected to receive $100 million from the Pentagon. Whatever else that money can purchase, it's not likely to buy even the rudiments of a functioning state, let alone an embryonic democracy. The U.S. has allocated $25 billion for Iraq's reconstruction (not counting the tens of billions in security costs) and Afghanistan's reconstruction is expected to total $15 billion.

So the administration has rhetorically invested in nation-building, but has yet to accept the financial and military implications of its commitments.

A Third Way?

In some sense, this strategic schizophrenia was inevitable. Despite Iraq's rightful dominance in the nation's consciousness, the long-term strategic outlook is murky. China may emerge as an openly hostile competitor requiring extensive military preparation. But she may not. Terrorism may continue to metastasize in failed states, as it did in Afghanistan in the 1990s, or it may burrow into the banlieues and urban enclaves of Europe, slink into "lawless" belts in relatively stable nations like Pakistan, or creep into the dark corners of cyberspace. In those later scenarios, U.S. military capability is largely irrelevant. The U.S. may find itself the temporary custodian of another massive, unruly Middle Eastern country after a necessary military intervention (Iran?) and wish to leave something better behind. Or it may prefer to forsake any follow-on commitments after the war has been won.

The bureaucratic confusion also underscores a deeper, fundamental disagreement about how the United States addresses threats and wields its power in an era of unrivaled dominance. It has been 17 years since the Berlin Wall crumbled, bringing an effective end to a fifty year struggle which, if nothing else, brought a degree of clarity and predictability to America's relationship with the world. Facing a tabula rasa, the U.S. has drifted through the intervening years without a firm over-arching strategy for how it orders its relations with the world.

Now, however, any efforts to forge such a strategy will be influenced, perhaps unduly, by Iraq.

Advocates of an American Empire (albeit a benign one), such as Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson and Council on Foreign Relations fellow Max Boot have looked upon Iraq's turbulent aftermath as a failure of planning and execution and look to S/CSR and a bolstered Army as a means to improve future ventures.

Others, such as CATO policy analysts Justin Logan and Christopher Preble, blanch at such a course. They read in Iraq's fractious rebuilding the folly of attempting to impose democratic institutions on a hostile society at gunpoint.

Yet looking at these issues through the lens of Iraq distorts as much as it illuminates. It is almost axiomatic, given the expenditures in lives and money, the reported state of the Army, and falling public and political support, that there will be "no more Iraqs." Yet that does not mean that the U.S. will not be forced, in the course of prosecuting the war on terror, to deploy large-scale military force against a terrorist entity or rogue state. We would then be confronted with the persistent question: what next?

One possible answer is: Afghanistan. While not precisely analogous, Afghanistan does present a viable third way from the imperial nation-building championed by Ferguson/Boot and the neo-isolationism embodied in the Logan/Preble critique. There, the U.S. set the priorities correctly: U.S. security interests first, modest institution building second. Perhaps more importantly, it properly calibrated expectations for just what the war-torn country could be expected to achieve politically. Afghanistan held historic local and national elections, yet was freed from being the lodestar of regional transformation. The U.S. has kept a relatively light footprint, but has ensured through coalition partners that the crucial capital city remains secured.

Afghanistan's reconstruction has been fitful and its long-term democratic consolidation is anything but guaranteed, but in nation-building no less then life, perfection should never be the enemy of the good. Since the U.S. is not willing to invest in a full-blown colonial apparatus but is simultaneously unwilling to simply abandon states to the ravages of post-war chaos, then doing more with less will be the order of the day.[1]

Iraq's outsized role in the public consciousness notwithstanding, it should be toward Afghanistan that the U.S. looks for lessons on how to apply its military power toward securing the nation against terrorism and sowing the seeds of political liberalization.

Gregory Scoblete is a senior editor at TWICE Magazine He writes regularly about technology and politics at

[1] A RAND Corporation study on nation building demonstrates why.



Afghanistan, The Model
Using Afghanistan as the mold from which to form democracies will only work when the nation being transformed has a similar background.

Afghanistan is a special case. We did not overthrow a government so much as we intervened in an on-going civil war ensuring that the side we supported won. The Taliban did not have the support of a large percentage of the Afghani people, unlike Saddam Hussein who could count on the Sunni minority to back him. Finally, there were several groups in place ready to take over from the Taliban and form a government once the fighting ended.

None of these elements are in place in Iraq nor are they readily apparent in Iran.

I hope none but that is wishful thinking. No nation can afford this...
The country simply can not afford to keep doing this. The combined costs of the wars in Afganistan and Iraq is already over $600billion and 2600 lives. That is a big price tag. And the real costs in lives and money will never be determined and it is certainly higher than the aforementioned numbers.

The government has hidden a large percentage of the costs of these adventures. It has also done a great job of hiding the true cost and number of lives lost in Afganistan.

Most importantly, I am wondering at what point the young folks of this nation decide in significant percentages to not take a bullets for the clave in one of these forsaken nations.

Servants of Saud
Saudi Arabia is the financial and recruting center for Al Qaeda -- this can't be repeated enough. Thus the "War on Terror" is doomed to failure as long as our need for Saudi oil is greater than our determination to root out the terrorist sponsors within the Saud royal family.

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