August 5, 2003
Counting the True Costs
by Alan Bock
and gradually, as the death toll mounts, as the "weapons of
mass destruction" continue to prove elusive, and as evidence
mounts that many if not most of the certainties U.S. officials touted
as evidence that Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat were based
on at least shaky and probably deceptive intelligence information,
the American people may be developing a healthy skepticism about
ongoing efforts to transform Iraq into a model democracy. The trend
may be assisted – although not necessarily purposely – by various
groups and individuals coming out with estimates of that the real
cost of "nation-building" in Iraq is likely to be.
talked with one of those experts last week. James Dobbins may know
as much as anybody about American nation-building as anybody in
the country, having been President Clinton's special envoy to Somalia,
Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo, and President Bush's special envoy for
Afghanistan. Now the head of the RAND Corporation's office in Washington,
he is also the lead author of a new book from RAND called America's
Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq.
a word, rebuilding Iraq will be much more costly and time-consuming
than anybody in authority has let on.
TO STAND PAT
President Bush knows this, he hasn't seen fit yet to let the American
people in on it. During his press conference last week President
Bush said things were going reasonably well in Iraq they way things
are set up now. While it will take time, he acknowledged. "the
world will see what I mean when I say a free Iraq will help peace
in the Middle East, and a free Iraq will be important for changing
the attitudes of the people in the Middle East."
maybe. Certainly few are lamenting the fact that Saddam Hussein's
two vicious sons are out of the picture. But last week also came
news that the U.S.-led occupation coalition is teaching Iraq the
wonders of democracy and freedom by shutting down a newspaper, pressuring
Arab governments to rein in Arab networks like Al-Jazeera because
of their "very biased reporting," and imprisoning two
Iranian TV journalists. According to the Chicago Tribune's
E.A. Torriero, "Angry over what it says is false reporting,
the Bush administration is pressing some Arab governments to rein
in their media, especially Qatar-based Al-Jazeera and Dubai-based
is precedent for this, of course. As Gary Dempsey and Roger Fontaine
note in their Cato Institute book, Fool's
Errands, occupation forces in both Kosovo and Bosnia also
indulged in press censorship, manipulation of news coverage and
intervention into what passed for the political process to affect
election outcomes. But it's not exactly a ringing affirmation for
exporting the First Amendment tradition of virtually absolute press
freedom (or absolute if you read "Congress shall make no law"
literally, as the founders almost certainly intended) to other countries.
And it suggests what our government leaders would like to do here
at home if the pesky First Amendment didn't get in the way (not
that most of the media are much more than compliant mouthpieces
for the government anyway).
LONG WAY TO SUCCESS
conversation with James Dobbins and my reading of the RAND book
affirm my conviction that it will be a long and winding road to
anything like a successful conclusion of the occupation. The president
and other officials may not want to admit as much, beyond a general
acknowledgment that it will be a hard job but the American people
have the persistence to see it through. But a dance through history
and the facts on the ground make one long for something more specific
than cheerleading from our purported leaders.
main thing about successful occupations designed to "underpin
rapid and fundamental societal transformation," as the book
puts it, is that they take a long time and they cost a lot of money.
In relatively successful operations, military forces stay about
seven years. It's worth noting that even though the United States
does not run things on a day-today basis in Germany and Japan, cited
by the hopelessly optimistic as irrefutable proof that the United
States can and will do the job right, there are still American troops
in place, even though they now tend to be more a source of friction
than of gratitude from the natives.
the RAND book notes, however, "The cases of Germany and Japan
set a standard for postconflict nation-building that has not since
been matched." During the Cold War, with the emphasis on containment
and deterrence, the U.S. was mainly concerned with maintaining the
status quo in countries that had not gone communist, not with trying
to resolve underlying tensions. Since the communist system collapsed,
however, "the United States has felt free to intervene not
simply to police cease-fires or restore the status quo but to try
to bring about more fundamental transformation of war-torn societies..."
U.S. has been able to muster considerable international and UN support
for such adventures recently. "Of the 55 peace operations the
United Nations (UN) has mounted since 1945, 41 (or nearly 80 percent)
began after 1989. Fifteen of these were still under way in 2003."
a more supportive international environment," Mr. Dobbins'
book notes, "the costs and risks associated with nation-building
have remained high." And if the U.S. is serious about Iraq
the costs will be higher than almost anybody has yet estimated.
WITH MORE TROOPS
starters, as Mr. Dobbins told me in our conversation, the number
of occupying troops will have to stabilize at "somewhere where
we are [150,000 troops] and the ideal [500,000], or between 250,000
and 350,000 troops." He notes that "there's an inverse
relationship between the number of troops and the number of casualties,"
both for U.S. troops and the native population.
most important thing now is to get more troops in," he said.
"Without security nothing else matters. All other efforts will
be wasted. Our forces will be unpopular so long as they are not
providing adequate security."
that we are spending $4 billion per month just for the troops there
now – and more for the various civilian and quasi-civilian advisers
and busybodies – that will be expensive. Doubling the number of
troops would bring the military cost alone to about $8 billion a
month, or around $96 billion per year (or round it up to $100 billion
and figure that will be a low-ball estimate).
just sending in more troops would be only the first step and the
first increment of cost. Mr. Dobbins says that to have some hope
of lasting success, there must be external economic aid. Aid roughly
comparable, on a per capita basis, to what was provided in Kosovo
and Bosnia would run between $20 billion and $35 billion a year
for the first two years. And conditions in Iraq are potentially
more volatile – more factions, more people with a vested interest
in seeing the occupation fail, more ethnic and/or religious groups
with reason to fear domination by rivals – than they were in either
Kosovo or Bosnia. Not to mention that Iraq is a bigger place with
all that, Mr. Dobbins believes it is essential to internationalize
the effort. However, "As long as the United States insists
on sole control the contributions from others will be minimal,"
he told me. But he notes that in Bosnia and Kosovo, with nominal
NATO control, other countries kicked in about 80 percent of the
resources in money and troops. The European Union is the most logical
candidate to share control and contribute resources, perhaps under
the auspices of the UN. He thinks that if the game is played shrewdly
other countries might eventually begin to contribute up to 50 percent
of the money, resources and personpower required in Iraq.
there is almost no evidence, beyond an occasional comment from Colin
Powell, that the administration is all that interested in internationalizing
the effort. Indeed, many of the most enthusiastic supporters of
the war and occupation – check out National Review Online
or the Weekly Standard on almost any given day – view the
idea of internationalization with hostility, as a sure formula for
having American interests subsumed or subverted by those pesky foreigners.
the Bush administration and its supporters think the American taxpayers
and American military personnel can pay the entire bill? Or do they
really think they can do an occupation on the cheap, continuing
to believe despite evidence to the contrary that Americans are welcomed
as liberators and the Iraqi people will be patient while we get
things right? Neither assumption seems especially realistic. Indeed,
both seem the stuff of fantasy – or of bankruptcy and imperial overstretch.
isn't the only institution trying to assess the prospects for success
in Iraq with a little more realism than the administration has shown
to date. Another, shorter, report on American nation-building from
the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is available here.
Carnegie report is not as detailed as the RAND report, but the conclusions
are similar. It notes that few of the conditions that have made
for successful nation-building in the past are present in Iraq,
noting especially that few economies based on a single resource
like oil have been successful at absorbing economic aid and diversifying.
the Carnegie executive summary puts it, "democratic nation-building
is among the most ambitious and difficult of foreign policy undertaking
for the United States. Of the 16 over the past century, democracy
was sustained in only 4 countries ten years after the departure
of American forces. Two of these followed total defeat and surrender
(in World War II) and two were in tiny countries (Grenada and Panama).
The record also reveals that unilateral nation-building by the United
States has an even lower success rate perhaps because unilateralism
has led to the creation of surrogate regimes and direct American
administration during the interim post-conflict period. The use
of interim surrogates has produced a record of complete failure."
this should be sobering.
scholars at both RAND and Carnegie make a case for internationalizing
the occupation. Pardon me if I find that a bit condescending and
almost as unrealistic as the Bush hopes. The idea that only intensive
supervision from somebody – whether Washington or the "international
community" – can bring about anything like a tolerable outcome
in Iraq suggests that the Iraqi people are thoroughly beknighted
and have no resources, economic, physical, moral or psychic, of
Edward Luttwak of the Center for International and Strategic Studies
(which has also done a post-conflict assessment, available at scis.org)
points out in a piece for the London Telegraph, the society
that would emerge in the wake of a fairly prompt American pullout
is unlikely to be a model democracy. No group in Iraq has a strong
ideological commitment to democracy, and most non-Shiites (Shiites
make up 60-65 percent of the population) have valid reason to fear
that democratic rule would be unpleasant for them.
the notion that every country has to be Just Like Us (or just like
the ideal image of Us we prefer to hold in our hearts) is more than
a bit arrogant. The rest of the world will no doubt come to resemble
the United States and Western Europe more as globalization proceeds.
But rather than trying to impose an "ideal" regime we
would do better to let things evolve and let various countries (and
individuals in them) work out how they will adapt the ideals of
liberty to their own circumstances. They'll work out something.
everybody will agree that the goal should be to turn matters over
to Iraqis and minimize U.S. presence as quickly as feasible. But
those who think otherwise should be honest about just how much any
occupation – successful or unsuccessful – will cost in American
tax money, personpower, and military and other resources.
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