Giving Peace A Real Chance

Why is an administration that was so bold, ambitious and clearheaded about waging war so hapless, diffident and error-prone when it comes to waging peace? With Jay Garner and other top officials fired before they had unpacked their bags, we can stop pretending that things are going smoothly in postwar Iraq. Of course, some chaos was inevitable and we will have to make many adjustments as we go along. Paul Bremer is already--shrewdly--asserting power, creating order and restoring basic services. But superficial changes will not be enough. The Bush administration went into Iraq clinging to some ideological preconceptions. It needs to junk them to succeed.

The administration thought it could learn nothing from a decade of American and international efforts at nation-building--except to see them as utterly flawed. Kosovo was repeatedly cited as an example of the United Nation's bloated approach. In fact, the record has been mixed, in the precise sense of that word, with some success and some failure. In general, things got better over time. James Dobbins, a former assistant secretary of State, who was centrally involved in all such efforts for the past decade, says, "Nation-building was disastrous in Somalia, bad in Haiti, better in Bosnia and better still in Kosovo."

Yes, Bosnia and Kosovo are not functioning liberal democracies with market economies. But they are a whole lot better off than they were, and than most poor and ethnically riven countries. If the base line is Germany and Japan--ethnically homogenous countries that had advanced economies before World War II--they have fallen short. If the base line is Somalia, they have done pretty well.

The key lesson of nation-building over the past decade is, don't leave. In Haiti and Somalia, we left. In Bosnia and Kosovo, we're still there. The corollary: keep sufficient force to maintain order. In Somalia and Haiti, the forces were too thin and too soon withdrawn; in Bosnia and Kosovo, large troop deployments remain for the long term.

And now? Dobbins, who was the Bush administration's policy coordinator for postwar Afghanistan, says, "After making progress for a decade in our capacities in nation-building, we have regressed in Afghanistan and--so far--Iraq." In Afghanistan, we have just 5 percent as many troops, per capita, as we do in Kosovo--and it shows. In Iraq, if we were to put as many troops as there are in Bosnia, per capita, the stabilization force required would be more than 250,000, about the number cited by the Army Chief of Staff Gen. Erik K. Shinseki. In Germany and Japan, five years after World War II, we had hundreds of thousands of troops stationed in each of those countries.

Iraq has oil, as we keep hearing. But it will take time and effort to get it on line. Meanwhile the country needs food, water, electricity, schools, police and courts. In Bosnia and Kosovo--as in Germany and Japan after 1945--money poured in. Aid to Kosovo per capita is still 25 times higher than aid to Afghanistan. Without European and Japanese help, aid to Iraq is destined to be too little, too late.

The United States simply cannot sustain an effort of this magnitude without broad international support. The current efforts remain ad hoc and weak. Even if we want to keep half as many troops (per capita) as in Bosnia, that's 125,000, a crippling burden for the United States. Britain could contribute 10,000 or 15,000 soldiers. Countries like Pakistan and India could send some forces (for payment), but there still needs to be an integrated command and control with troops that have experience at peacemaking and -keeping. That means NATO; including France and Germany.

Similarly, in the administrative realm, the best way to help Iraq create a modern, democratic state is to thoroughly de-Baathize it and build new legal and administrative structures. Unless the United States plans to build a colonial bureaucracy of its own, with thousands of civil servants who can help run Iraq, it should use international agencies with expertise and experience. In some areas, the training of police for example, the United Nations has proved to be excellent. In others, such as finding weapons and trying Baathists, it would bring international legitimacy.

"On nation-building, people can be divided into three groups," says Dobbins. "Those who know something about the country involved. They tend to be mired in the local culture so that they believe nation-building is impossible. Next are those who know something about nation-building. They believe it's doable but tough and expensive. And then there are those who know nothing about either the country or about nation-building. They think it will be cheap and easy." On this one, it's worth spending big.