Saturday, September 25, 2004

# Posted 7:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT WENT WRONG IN IRAQ: Of all those following the occupation closely, I may have been the last to read Larry Diamond's thoughtful essay on Iraq in the current issue of Foreign Affairs.

FYI, Diamond is a full professor at Stanford and probably the world's foremost authority on democratization in the developing world. Diamond was also an adviser to the CPA who spent an extensive amount of time in Iraq. (Apparently, not all of the CPA's advisers were neo-conservative ideologues from AEI.)

I'm not familiar with Diamond's most recent work, but I read numerous publications of his (and even met the good professor in person) while working at the Carnegie Endowment almost five years ago. Diamond's most important work is probably Developing Democracy: Toward Consolidation. It is a comprehenisve survey of the literature on democratization, which (IMHO) puts slightly too much emphasis on the importance of economic factors.

The main argument of Diamond's essay in Foreign Affairs is twofold. First of all, we didn't put enough boots on the ground. Second of all, we didn't do enough to build up the interim government's legitimacy. Diamond writes that:

In truth, around 300,000 troops might have been enough to make Iraq largely secure after the war. But doing so would also have required different kinds of troops, with different rules of engagement. The coalition should have deployed vastly more military police and other troops trained for urban patrols, crowd control, civil reconstruction, and peace maintenance and enforcement. Tens of thousands of soldiers with sophisticated monitoring equipment should have been
posted along the borders with Syria and Iran to intercept the flows of foreign terrorists, Iranian intelligence agents, money, and weapons.

But Washington failed to take such steps, for the same reasons it
decided to occupy Iraq with a relatively light force: hubris and ideology. Contemptuous of the State Department's regional experts who were seen as too "soft" to remake Iraq, a small group of Pentagon officials ignored the elaborate postwar planning the State Department had overseen through its "Future of Iraq" project, which had anticipated many of the problems that emerged after the invasion. Instead of preparing for the worst, Pentagon planners assumed that
Iraqis would joyously welcome U.S. and international troops as liberators.
There is no question in my mind that we needed to go in with a lot more troops. I'm just not sure that "hubris and ideology" are the reasons we didn't. With the army struggling to maintain the current force level of approximately 150,000, one has to wonder whether we even have another 150,000 troops.

It is also important to remember that in March of 2003, there was a major conflict within the Pentagon about the size of the invasion force necessary to overwhelm Iraq. If Rumsfeld admitted that Shinseki was right about the need for an occupation force of 300,000, then Rumsfeld would've had to abandon his ambitious plan to demonstrate that a lighter, faster invasion force could win the race to Baghdad.

With regard to the CPA's strategy for restoring security, Diamond writes that:

The occupation compounded its original errors of analysis with two
strategic miscalculations. First, it launched a de-Baathification campaign that was much too broad, excluding from any meaningful role in the future state anyone who had held any kind of high-level position in the party, regardless of whether they were directly involved in serious crimes. And the most aggressive and politically ambitious advocate of radical de-Baathification, the controversial Ahmed Chalabi, was put in charge of the program.

The second mistake was made in May 2003, when, as one of his first official acts, Bremer ordered the dissolution of the Iraqi army. The army had already collapsed and scattered at the end of the invasion, and intensive vetting of its officer corps would have been necessary before it could have served any positive function in the new Iraqi state. Still, by formally dissolving it, the CPA lost the opportunity to reconstitute some portions of it to help restore order, and it left tens of thousands of armed soldiers and officers cut out of the new order and prime candidates for recruitment by the insurgency.
Emphasizing Bremer's premature decision to dissolve the Iraqi army is one of the most common criticisms of the CPA. But how much difference is there between "reconstitut[ing] some portions" of the old Iraqi army and inviting old soldiers to join the new, de-Ba'athified Iraqi armed forces?

On the related issue of de-Ba'athfication, does the available intelligence indicate that a significant number of "good" ex-Ba'athtists chose to join the insurgency because of Bremer's decision to take a hardline? Or are the Ba'athist elements within the insurgency just Saddam loyalists who never would have been acceptable to the CPA?

As for Chalabi, there are no excuses to make on the Pentagon's behalf. Yet when comes to explaining the current surge of violence in Iraq, focusing on Chalabi isn't all that useful. His advocates at the Pentagon gave up on him months and months ago.

On the issue of legitimacy, Diamond observes that
Washington should have done two things to fill [the legitimacy] gap: increased international participation in the political administration of the country (although this would have been difficult given international opposition to the war), and put legitimate Iraqi leaders in visible, meaningful governance roles as soon as possible.

The most straightforward way to do this would have been to hold
The experience of other postwar transitions, however, counseled strongly against a rapid move to national elections. With no electoral register, no administrative framework to organize balloting, no electoral rules, and no time or space for new political parties to emerge and mobilize, early national elections (any time within the first year of occupation) could well have precipitated a disastrous slide toward violence and polarization-even civil war. And they would likely have been swept in the south by Islamist parties, which
enjoyed the huge initial advantage of having pre-existing organizations built up either underground or in exile in Iran.
In other words, Bremer and Bush correctly chose the lesser of two evils. Besides, is there any reason to believe that either the Sadrite or Sunni insurgency has gained momentum because the United States waited too long to hold elections? If anything, the insurgents' strength reflects numerous Iraqis' fear of a democratic order. Whereas the Sunnis fear the emergence of a Shi'ite majority, the Sadrists fear that democracy is incompatible with fundamentalist Islam.

The rest of Diamond's essay focuses on the conflicts of interest that prevented both the Interim Governing Council (IGC) and (after June 28, 2003) Iyad Allawi's "sovereign" government from achieving greater legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi public. However, the relationship between this lack of legitimacy and the growing strength of the insurgents seems tangential at best.

Mostly, Diamond's account focuses on the objections that the Shi'ite majority and the Kurdish minority have had to the IGC and its successor. Diamond also describes the lackluster public relations campaign that enabled the critics of Allawi's government to damage its popularity. But the Kurds and the Shi'ites are not the problem in Iraq. And I suspect that even the most effective public relations campaign could not have won over the Sunni insurgents.

The questions I want answered are economic and military. First of all, to what degree has the economic chaos in Iraq reinforced popular support for the Sunni insurgents? Alternatively, is the insurgents' success a purely military phenomenon? With a secure base of operations in Fallujah and other cities west of Baghdad, the insurgents may now be able to plan far more elaborate and ambitious operations.

It is with these questions in mind that I will turn to Anthony Cordesman's 108 page report on reconstruction.
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