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Take Iraq "Nation Building" Off Back Burner, Task Force Warns

by Jim Lobe

Afghan "Nation Building" On Back Burner

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- In light of its deepening disaster in Iraq, the U.S, particularly the Department of Defense, must place "nation-building" on a par with war-fighting in protecting national security, according to a new report released Wednesday by a bipartisan task force chaired by two former national security advisers.

The task force, convened by the influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a Rockefeller think tank, credited George W. Bush with taking some tentative steps in elevating, however belatedly in the case of Iraq, the importance of nation-building, or stabilization and reconstruction operations, in government planning.

But the 47-page report, "In the Wake of War: Improving U.S. Post-Conflict Capabilities," argues that a much more aggressive re-organization of the relevant bureaucracies, particularly a Pentagon that has generally disdained nation-building as "social work," is required.

"Stability and reconstruction needs to be understood and treated as a mission as important to America's security as high-intensity combat operations," according to the task force, which was chaired by Brent Scowcroft and Samuel Berger, national security advisers to Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

"For this message to take hold, it must come unambiguously from the top, beginning with the president and reinforced by the secretary of defense," stated the report, which called for an immediate directive defining SRO as a "core military mission" that requires the same attention and priority as combat operations.

The task force, which consisted of 24 experts in addition to Scowcroft and Berger, also called for the State Department, which was largely sidelined by the Pentagon both in the planning leading to and the immediate aftermath of the 2003 Iraq invasion, to lead all SRO civilian efforts in the future and for the National Security Council (NSC) to coordinate civilian-military issues and policy-making in post-conflict situations.

And it said Washington should rely more on multilateral institutions, including the United Nations, in carrying out SROs. It called, in particular, for the U.S. to push to create a standing multilateral reconstruction Trust Fund capitalized at about one billion dollars under the auspices of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations but overseen as well by representatives of the UN, the World Bank, and other donor countries. Such a Fund would be able to provide immediate support in urgent situations.

The Bush administration, which came into office in 2001 seemingly determined to reduce U.S. involvement in nation-building operations, such as in the Balkans, was far more focused on "transforming" the U.S. military into a smaller, faster, more hi-tech, and more lethal force capable of deploying virtually anywhere on the globe at a moment's notice and applying overwhelming force against any enemy.

Leading Bush advisers charged during the 2000 campaign that the Clinton administration had squandered U.S. military power in nation-building exercises through the 1990s.

In one memorable phrase, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who served as Bush's chief campaign aide and then national security adviser during his first term, said, "We don't need to have the 82nd Airborne escorting kids to kindergarten," and one of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's first moves in office was to order the closure of the Army's Peacekeeping Institute.

This stance would come back to haunt the administration, particularly in the disastrous aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, when the Pentagon had excluded the State Department and other agencies with regional and political expertise both from the pre-war planning process and early occupation ,which quickly turned into a widespread and growing insurgency.

"Unfortunately, the lessons of the 1990s were disregarded in the planning for Afghanistan and Iraq," according to the report. "The result has been inefficient operations, billions of dollars of wasted resources, and stymied ambitions."

As U.S. troops found it difficult to maintain order and the obviously pre-planned insurgency began to gather momentum over the summer of 2003, the administration appeared to realize its mistake, and the NSC began to assume greater control of Iraq policy-making, although the transition was both gradual and largely improvised.

By mid-2004, the State Department, which had established a new Office of Coordinator for Stabilization and Reconstruction, had been placed more or less in charge of Iraq policy, and even the Pentagon had defined stabilization operations as a core mission.

"I think they bought the notion that if you wipe out the top (Iraqi) leadership, (the state) will run," noted Scowcroft in speaking of the administration's pre-Iraq war assumptions. "When that didn't work, we had no fallback (plan)."

"'We don't want to train paratroopers to escort kindergarten children.' Those are just slogans," Scowcroft said, paraphrasing Rice, a former protegee of the retired air force general who fell out with him over the Iraq war.

The new report, which is based in part on the conclusions of a number of similar assessments by think tanks and government bodies, argued that the very power and speed with which U.S. forces can carry out its war-fighting mission ironically makes nation-building that much more important.

"Rapid victory collapses the enemy but does not destroy it," the report notes, adding that "adversaries can go underground to prepare to wage guerrilla warfare, creating a need for more troops for longer periods of time during the stabilization and reconstruction phases."

"The critical miscalculation of Iraq war-planning was that the stabilization and reconstruction mission would require no more forces than the invasion itself. As a result, too few troops were deployed," the report stressed in a clear rebuke to Rumsfeld, in particular, who, it notes, continues to emphasize missions other than stabilization and reconstruction in his latest planning directives.

"War-fighting has two important dimensions: winning the war and winning the peace," the report declares.

While the administration, including the Pentagon, has taken some steps to address issue, including its current plan to create a Stabilization and Reconstruction Deputies' Coordination Committee to ensure that all relevant agencies work together at a high level, the report argues that much more remains to be done.

"The higher priority now accorded to nation-building has yet to be matched by a comprehensive policy or institutional capacity within the U.S. government to engage successfully in stabilization and reconstruction missions," according to the report, which called for a series of reforms to ensure the coordination and enhance the influence of those officials assigned to oversee nation-building responsibilities in all relevant agencies.

The report also rejected the creation of constabulary forces specialized in stabilization and reconstruction activities, arguing that the military is already overstretched and that such operations are likely to be sufficiently common in the future so that all troops should be trained to "shift rapidly between a high-intensity combat footing and a stabilization role."

"Our judgment was that this has to be a core mission starting with basic training," said Berger.

The report also stressed that Washington must be much more willing to engage multilateral and regional institutions in nation-building operations and should be prepared to increase U.S. support to peacekeeping and similar missions.

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Albion Monitor July 30, 2005 (

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