Sunday, January 14, 2007

Nation-Building Not a Military Mission

When the historians look back at the Iraq adventure, the Bush adminstration will be faulted for their idea that the military and an occupation administration could build a democracy from the ruins of a partial conquest.

President Bush knew the peril of attempting nation-building - he criticized President Clinton for attempting it in Bosnia - and he clearly stated he would not do it. But the siren song of the neocons was too enticing, and soon our troops had undone the Iraqi government. All that was left was to build a nation out of a fractured, sectarian-oriented society filled with angry citizens and foreign fighters. Our adversaries in that country had access to plenty of weapons, deadly explosives, and two major routes of resupply and funding. The situation soon became a civil war with the U.S. supporting an election won by the side aligned with Iran, a dedicated enemy of the U.S. This is a horror story.

President Bush is now implementing a "temporary surge", an increase of 20,000 troops aimed at suppressing the civil war. His hope is that the Iraqi government will be willing and able to control the sectarian leaders who put it into power - leaders who have objectives inconsistent with those of the occupying force. Because this "surge" is unlikely to succeed, long term U.S. occupation of Iraq is the only plausible means to keep Iraq from being a client state of Iran. Such an occupation will cost a fortune in U.S. casualties and treasure, but it is the probable strategy until President Bush's term is over.

Both the initial invasion of Iraq and the "surge" were posited on the idea that limited military means can be used to build a nation. However, history shows that success is predictable only when the military does what the military is trained to do - conduct all-out agression until total capitulation is achieved. The U.S. and its allies accomplished this in WWII. Germany and Japan were ruthlessly conquered and individuals who stood in the way of creating a new nation were imprisoned or killed. Martial law was imposed, and governments totally under the control of the conquerers were imposed. This strategy worked in WWII, but it was not the plan for Iraq. The Iraq plan was a naive one, a plan based on the idea that a conquered people with no cultural ties to the West would voluntarily embrace democracy and effectively implement it.

The military is the final tool of diplomacy. At the end of the day, soldiers kill or capture people until the political mission is accomplished. They don't worry much about collateral damage unless total victory can be accomplished while also minimizing it. "Occupation" is not a military mission, therefore, unless the ruthless tactics of war can be utilized, as in WWII, to totally suppress the occupied country. If the conquered country has a population that is generally united and supportive of the interests of the conquerers, the occupation will be short, peaceful, and concluded with an orderly departure of the troops. But if significant elements of the population are not supportive of the conquerer's interests, as is the case in Iraq, the occupation will be lengthy, bloody, and inconclusive at best.

The non-soldiers who planned the Iraq war did not listen to the career military. The soldiers advised going in with sufficient strength to suppress opposition and implement supervised civilian and security structures that met U.S. requirements. But Iraq is now in chaos, and the U.S. is neither capable nor willing to reinitiate the suppression mission that soldiers are trained to carry out. Consequently, the chance of finishing the nation-building mission is slim at best. The seeds of this defeat can be traced directly back to Bush's mistaken idea that a military victory over a hostile population could be consolidated with half measures. The Commander in Chief is learning this lesson the hard way, and school is not yet out.

1 comment:

Dave said...

I wish you weren't right.