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Tuesday, October 28, 2003

SOME NOTES ON THE RED CROSS ATTACK The dominant theme on yesterday’s news programmes while analysing the bombing of the Red Cross HQ was one of incomprehension. Why would anyone attack an organisation that is the purest embodiment of neutrality? Well, as I have argued before, the terrorists carrying out the attacks in Iraq have a very clear goal: they want the rebuilding of Iraq to fail. And they want it to fail badly and bloodily. For practical purposes it doesn’t actually matter much whether they are Baathists or al Quaeda or whatever, they strive for Iraq to collapse into complete chaos and thus ensure a victory for their respective ideology against any sort of progress for the Iraqi people. This is where the incomprehension sets in for many Western commentators. For far too many of them it’s all about America. While most in the West, including respectable opponents of the war, share the same goal for Iraq, i.e. a functioning market democracy; the main dividing line is how this is to be achieved. It’s just that the terrorists don’t care too much whether or not the UN or the coalition fails, as long as there is failure.
And let’s make no mistake about it, the potential for failure is large, despite the fact that there has been much progress in the past six months. One of the problems that I see is that we may be thinking about the challenges in Iraq in the wrong way.
For example on reconstruction I tend to find the view that more aid money is all that is needed far too widespread. Yes, Iraq does need outside financial help at the moment (hopefully its own oil revenues will be able to cover the costs in months and years to come), but the question is more how Iraq’s transition to a workable economy can be made permanent. For example Robert Lane Green has pointed out that:

In fact, while the $55 billion the World Bank estimates Iraq needs over the next few years may fix up the country's prewar infrastructure, it's unlikely to have the same effect on its economy--for the simple reason that Iraq never had a modern capitalist economy to begin with.

And reminds us that Iraq

has in modern times been a socialist basket-case propped up only by oil, in the middle of a region beset by much the same problem. In a sense, postwar Iraq combines the worst features of postwar Germany with those of post-Soviet Russia.
. . .
And, in the end, it's the socialist legacy that may actually prove tougher to overcome. Not only does a former socialist country have to dismantle hugely inefficient state enterprises and recycle their capital and labor into more productive parts of the economy. It must also create the institutions upon which a capitalist market depends--property rights, bankruptcy laws,

That will indeed be a great challenge and it would be good if all those who wish to see Iraq prosper which hopefully includes many opponents of the regime change will agree to help with this monumental task.

The other big issue is of course security. While the increase in the numbers of Iraqi policemen should be more rapid than it is at the moment, the general security situation seems to be improving. But again, as with the economy, the question is how to ensure a lasting arrangement. Tom Donelly and Gary Schmitt, the leading members of the much-vilified Project for the New American Century, argue that a victory against the terrorists will be necessary. They point out that:

the debate has focused on whether we have enough troops, rather than whether we have the right forces, in the right places, using the right stratagems to defeat the amalgam of hard-core Baathists, Iraqi opportunists and radical Islamists from outside the country who continue to wage unconventional war against the U.S.-led occupation.

They make it clear that:

Developing and executing a successful counterinsurgency strategy for Iraq is a challenge, to be sure, but far from an insurmountable one.

. . .

CAN SUCH A STRATEGY WORK IN IRAQ? Yes, if applied correctly. One lesson: Pacification and counterinsurgency campaigns are manpower-intensive.

That’s certainly the case and have a long argued that the occupation force is too small. In an ironic way the actual war could probably have been won with fewer forces, but I have always maintained that the occupation would require an increase in the number of troops and I’m happy to see the authors echoing a further favourite talking point of mine, namely that

the effort "should be organized primarily around light infantry units" that must "patrol intensively in and around populated areas," interposing themselves between insurgents and the people.

The problem with implementing this strategy is in parts not just conceptual but also institutional:

A successful counterinsurgency campaign also would require American ground forces to carry out tasks and operations that today's "transforming" military, which increasingly is trading manpower for precision firepower, finds hard to perform. As one Army colonel in Iraq recently said to a New York Times reporter: "We are not trained to fight a war like this. We're training to fight an army face to face, to engage in direct combat, an enemy we can see." But that's not the kind of enemy we now face in Iraq.

And that is in fact a very substantial problem that Frederick Kagan has analysed at length. He concludes:

IF THE U.S. is to undertake wars that aim at regime change and maintain its current critical role in controlling and directing world affairs, then it must fundamentally change its views of war. It is not enough to consider simply how to pound the enemy into submission with stand-off forces. War plans must also consider how to make the transition from that defeated government to a new one. A doctrine based on the notion that superpowers don't do windows will fail in this task. Regime change is inextricably intertwined with nation-building and peacekeeping. Those elements must be factored into any such plan from the outset.
(. . . ) To effect regime change, U.S. forces must be positively in control of the enemy's territory and population as rapidly and continuously as possible. That control cannot be achieved by machines, still less by bombs. Only human beings interacting with other human beings can achieve it. The only hope for future success in the extension of politics that is war is to restore the human element to the transformation equation.

I can only hope that this shift in thinking will eventually happen. At least the British armed forces’ set-up in the past decade has re-emphasised the need for this sort of operations, as the successes in Kosovo, Sierra Leone and to a certain extent southern Iraq have shown. Though the apparently planned cuts in spending could well put an end to that. What idiots.

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