Friday, March 13, 2009

Iraq: The Sixth Anniversary Approaches

This March 19 marks the sixth anniversary of “Shock and Awe,” the much ballyhooed opening bombardment of Baghdad by the U.S. Air Force and Navy in a failed bid to kill Saddam Hussein and a select group of Iraqi civilian and military leaders.

I have heard more than once the observation that any war in which the United States is a significant factor that lasts more than five years (some reduce this to four years) is a conflict from which America will emerge – at best – with a “draw” but more likely with none of its policy objectives intact.

Now I never ascribed to the belief that the unfolding of either individual or collective history is predetermined. This is not to say that in the unfolding of individual, institutional, or natural histories there are no rules, no basics, that come into play or that the translation from the ideal to the practical and concrete may take a decade or more to achieve – well beyond even the less restrictive of the two time standards.

What it does mean is that within the laws governing nature, there is much room for success or failure due to what individuals perceive is happening around them and what they do (or do not do) in reaction. Unfortunately, all too often the propensity – rather the imperative – to act becomes overwhelming, and as action induces reaction over and over, we can become so fixated on the process that we to “take our eye off the ball” – off the reason why, of all the perceptions that registered on the psyche, why a particular one caught our attention and generated a reaction.

I came across the blog I wrote on the first anniversary of “shock and awe.” What follows is an annotated (where warranted) recap as of March 19, 2004, of what had been achieved, what needed to be done, and what had fundamentally changed.

What has been accomplished

- Saddam Hussein’s brutal, self-serving, and surprisingly incompetent regime has been removed from power. Most of the former regime’s key players have been killed or captured, including Saddam himself.

- Oil production has finally been restored close to the pre-war levels, but it remains below pre-1990 levels. COMMENT: the basic oil laws remain in limbo because of the inability of the central government and the Kurds to resolve the status of the oil fields around Mosel.

- Electric power, rationed before the war and completely lost during the U.S.-UK bombardment, is back on more than it is off. COMMENT: Power distribution remains incomplete.

- Schools have been rebuilt and re-opened, and hospitals are receiving medical supplies. COMMENT: the supplies are needed because the killing continues.

- At the provincial and local (town and village) levels, the Iraqi people are choosing councils to discuss and resolve local issues. Baghdad alone has 88 such councils. Civil society is beginning to emerge in many areas, but its development remains susceptible to the security situation.

- A “Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period” has been adopted by the U.S.-appointed 25 member Iraqi Governing Council. Due to go into effect July 1, 2004, it is to serve as the guide for elections of a National Assembly, the appointment of an interim government, the writing of and referendum on a new Iraqi constitution, and the election of a full-fledged federal-style government. On the other hand, it may only lead to divisive wrangling and the disintegration of Iraq. COMMENT: province elections have been held and another round of elections for parliament is set for later this year – security permitting

What remains to be done? How long will it take?

- Find the weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration said made Saddam Hussein an imminent threat to the U.S., the original justification for starting this war. COMMENT: there were no such weapons.

- Obtain as soon as possible a full and public explanation of the use or abuse of information by U.S. intelligence agencies in forming their judgments, and the use or abuse of intelligence by policy makers in their communications with the U.S. public and with other governments. COMMENT: still waiting

- Provide reliable, consistent physical security for the Iraqi population. The old regime had, at most, passing interactions with al Qaeda “adherents.” Now Iraq has become a battleground not only involving disaffected Iraqis but also extremists targeting U.S. forces and Iraqis working with the U.S.-led CPA or foreign military forces. COMMENT: the next sentence reads:

This may not be achieved for as long as five years, and certainly not until a better trained, reliable police force, border police, and regular army are available.

- Rebuild Iraq. While a start has been made, the remaining tasks are enormous. Other nations have pledged about $14 billion for this effort; the U.S. contribution so far is more than $20 billion. Estimates of the final cost vary, but most are in the $75 to $100 billion range, with some predicting as much as $200 billion over the next decade. COMMENT: Estimates were too low

- Ensure to the extent possible a real and complete transition to democratic governance from the CPA to the transitional authority to the interim government to a permanent, popularly elected government by December 2005. The UN should exercise independent authority to help in this transformation. COMMENT: The Iraqis finally achieved almost full recovery of sovereignty on December 31, 2008.

- Assist nongovernmental organizations in their attempts to count Iraqi civilian fatalities, provide restitution to survivors, and compensate those Iraqis wounded by coalition forces for their injuries.

What are the most far-reaching changes in Iraq and in the U.S. to emerge because of this war after one year?

- Iraqi society, but exactly how remains undetermined other than a change in leadership. Political, ethnic, religious, and gender relationships, rights, and responsibilities are all in flux. The new constitution, yet to be written, if approved (which may be a major hurdle) will establish a framework on which these considerations can be arranged and woven into a national fabric. But how strong the fabric will be will not be known until it is tested – which might take years.

- Enmity toward the U.S. has increased in the Islamic world as a whole, even in Turkey, a NATO ally.

- The U.S. administration has enshrined – and, in invading Iraq, attempted to justify – as policy the concept of preventive war which previous administrations had only “reserved the right” to use.

- Increased wariness among other states of U.S. unilateral motives for action, with a predictably less hospitable reception for U.S. suggestions and less support for positions favored by Washington.


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