My own views were captured in this lead editorial today in the Philadelphia Inquirer, but I think that this roster of benchmarks that CSIS’s Anthony Cordesman sent TWN is extremely useful.
It ought to become the “mantra card” for serious political opponents of this administration’s Cheney-led national security team.
Just by way of preamble, in contrast to Cordesman, I opposed the war against Iraq and supported the military action against bin Laden, the Taliban, and incursion into Afghanistan. I thought America had a “thug management system” in place that had Saddam Hussein mostly managed and that the risks of attacking him under circumstances that were not ideal posed the chance of America showing its limits — which she has done.
Like Cordesman, I worked hard to suggest ideas on how to get the occupation “right” (if there is such a thing) — such as my New York Times piece suggesting an “Alaska Permanent Fund Model for Iraq.” But now I disagree with him about staying and agree with his CSIS colleague Zbigniew Brzezinski that America’s presence is preempting leading Sunni and Shiite chiefs from striking the deals that they are going to have to make unless the place explodes in total civil war. That may be coming anyway, with American troops caught in the middle.
But that said, Cordesman has one of the single best rosters specifying false promises, false rationales, failed execution, unclear objectives, and just all the ingredients of an epic failure.
The compelling roster of what has gone wrong makes his plea at the beginning to stay the course and try and work out some good results seem naive, but I respect Cordesman and respect our differences on this point.
Now to his thoughtful piece sent by email:
The Iraq War Three Years On: A Scorecard
Anthony H. Cordesman
Let me preface the following points with the statement that I do not oppose the war, and that I believe we have an obligation to the Iraqi people to pursue our current strategy, to try to end the insurrection and prevent civil war, and help them create an inclusive and stable government.
I believe that we have made major advances in creating effective Iraqi forces, that the US Embassy is pursuing the best political approach it can in trying to create the government Iraq needs, and that we are making slow progress towards taking the aid process out of disastrously incompetent US hands in Washington and making Iraqis responsible for their own economic progress.
But, this should not blind us to the strategic consequences of the war to date. We may well fail in all our efforts because they came far too slowly, involved years of inept execution, and face a scale of problems that we still tend to deny. There is a real risk that Iraq will degenerate into full-scale civil war or a level of divisiveness that will paralyze or limit Iraq’s progress for years to come.
It is also clear that creating a unity government with a small Sunni minority isn’t going to stop the insurrection or risk of a major civil war during 2006, and perhaps for years to come. At best, it will take years to create a fully stable and functioning new political structure and defeat the insurgency.
As a result, I believe it is time to look quite frankly at the war in terms of how it has achieved it is original its objectives after three years, and consider what this means the need to avoid rushing into wars we do not really understand or prepare for in the future:
Objective One: Get Rid of Iraqi WMD Threat: Happened before the war. The main stated objective of the war was pointless.
Objective Two: Liberate Iraq: Security for the average Iraq is now worse, and the new political freedom is essentially freedom to vote for sectarian and ethnic divisions. Some progress to be sure, but much more limited than the Administration claims. It will be 2007-2008 at the earliest before stability can be established — if it can. We essentially used a bull to liberate a china shop, without any meaningful plan to deal with the consequences. We have tried to fix the resulting problems, but we still don’t know whether we can salvage our early mistakes.
Objective Three: End the Terrorist Threat in Iraq: There was no meaningful threat in the first place. Neo-Salafi terrorism now dominates the insurgency and is a far worse threat. Al Qaida now has serious involvement in Iraq. The impact on the region has alienated many Arabs and Muslims and has aided extremists. It has given Iran leverage that has added a new risk of Shi’ite extremism.
Objective Four: Stabilize the Gulf Region and Middle East: The war has been extremely divisive. It has created a major new source of anger against the US and new tensions over the US presence. Iran, Turkey, and neighboring Arab states have all become involved in destabilizing ways.
Objective Five: Ensure Secure Energy Exports: There have been consistently lower Iraqi exports than under Saddam. The predicted increases in Iraqi production have never occurred, and will not for years to come. There has been no meaningful renovation of oil fields and export facilities and serious further wartime disruption. The previous problems have spilled over into the other Gulf exporting states.
Objective Six: Make Iraq a Democratic Example that Transforms the Middle East: Iraq is not a model of anything. Public opinion polls in region show that our efforts at reform to date have created new Arab fears of US, and distrust of US efforts at reform in other countries.
Objective Seven: Help Iraq Become a Modern Economy: The flood of wartime, oil for food, and aid money has put tens of billions of dollars into the Iraqi economy and raised the GDP and per capita income on paper. So have record oil revenues. Even the latest US quarterly report, however, has oil not only dominating the GDP, but rising as a percentage in the future. Most new businesses are shells, starts ups or war related. Youth unemployment easily averages more than 30% nationwide and is 40-60% in the trouble Sunni areas. As yet, no meaningful sectoral reform in agriculture, state industries, or the energy sector. A shift to focused short term aid and letting the Iraqis manage more of the money may help, but largely a wasteful, highly ideological and bureaucratic failure.
In short, being a superpower is not enough. Fighting wars requires both a realistic grand strategy and the ability to implement it.
We may salvage the Iraq War on a national level, but there is little or no chance of salvaging the war in terms of our broader strategic objectives.
In 821 words, Cordesman — an Iraq War supporter — lays out one of the most candid salvos against the White House’s vision and prosecution of the Iraq War that I have read.
— Steve Clemons