Monday, October 30, 2006

Senator Reed at Brookings

Senator Reed, who just returned from his 9th trip to Iraq, was over at Brookings last thursday where he made several recommendations on a future course of action in Iraq.

Here is a quick summary of those recommendations:
(1) Reining in the militias;
(2) Real reconciliation
(3) Real reconstruction;
(4) Regional strategy; and
(5) Resources

Some highlights of the speech:

On the whole “Clear, hold and build” strategy:

"…with American forces and Iraqi security forces we are pretty good at clearing and holding. Where we have persistently failed is in the building, and that has been a function, I think, not only of Iraqi capability of intention but also because from the United States perspective, we have never truly matched our military effort with a comparable civilian effort in terms of State Department personnel, AID personnel, and Justice Department personnel."

The problem is even though this idea is somewhat prevalent on the Hill and beyond, there is still no indication as to whether the White House will actually produce a shift in strategy to address the issue. Of course we have the Iraq Study Group headed by Baker readying its recommendations; One of which is likely to refer to this problem. But as Sen. Reed correctly noted, the group can only make suggestions; there is no guarantee that the president will act on them.

On whether we are “losing” or “winning”:

"I would say based on my observations that we have lost the initiative militarily and in terms of reconstruction and these efforts and that if we don’t get the initiative back within the next several months, then our position becomes increasingly untenable there. So we are not winning, but I don’t think we have lost."

So we now have to achieve in three months what we failed to in the last two and a half years. Forget for a moment whether this even possible. My misgivings are centered on our current Secretary of Defense and Vice President both of whom are likely to challenge, if not derail, programs that could potentially achieve stability.

On troop commitment:

"Much discussion recently has centered on the number of troops. I think it is easy sometimes to say, well, the solution is simple -- more troops -- but I think we have to recognize that if the Iraqi Government doesn’t make some basic political decisions, if we cannot ask them to commit their resources, if we cannot get international commitments for additional resources, and we cannot deliver these resources in a more effective way, then sending more troops will buy us some more time but it will not be decisive. If we can get the political right, if we can get the reconstruction issues correct, and if our commanders on the ground see that and sense that in the short term -- again, this has to be measured not just in number of troops but in time -- we can go ahead and at least consider a planned increase force structure. But right now, until we get the politics right, I don’t think that is the easy silver bullet for this problem."

It is nice to hear a politician actually think through an issue that has thus far been debated in absolute terms (bring them all home, keep them all there, send some more there). Reed is quite right to make political and economic reconstruction priorities, and prerequisites for any further troop deployments to Iraq. Much of the violence, regardless of how our media may construe it, is politically and economically motivated. It is not all about religion. Hell, in the south you have Shias fighting Shias. At issue is what Reed suggests we rely on to achieve this stability. The Iraqi government is quite the mess and although it is making steps towards economic development, it is tragically negligent when it comes to the state’s security. The government has gone as far as to release militants captured by its own security forces! Why? Well, unfortunately at the moment, many government ministers are beholden to the militias, as in many cases it was the militias that put them into power.

In terms of international support, the most crucial aid need come from Iraq’s neighbors and considering all that Iran and Syria are doing to undermine American efforts in Iraq, it is difficult to imagine that these two countries will begin to positively influence Iraq in the near future, let alone in the next 3 months. Sure it is possible that Iran and Syria will come around, after all they probably have more to gain from a stable Iraq, but I wouldn’t want to rely on that.

On what the government is missing in terms of nation-building capabilities:

"It might be institutional in terms of there is no department for this. Certainly, it is budgetary in terms of there don’t seem to be the funding streams, and there is not the automatic claim on funds that DOD has when you start talking about reconstruction efforts. I think the Administration pursuing a model based upon private contractors has proved very expensive and very ineffective. And so, I think we have to begin to rethink this whole approach…One of the approaches to this problem a few years ago was the Administration, at least the candidate, Governor Bush then, saying we are not going to do nation-building, so we don’t need any of this stuff. Now, we find ourselves in the most complicated nation-building we have done in a very long period of time, and we don’t have any institutional support or the budgetary support for it. Yet, I don’t think the Administration has thought how to do that."

The amount of money wasted by these private contractors is ridiculous. And should anyone really be surprised? The US government threw billions of dollars at these contractors without thinking to monitor their spending. Nations cannot be rebuilt on dollars alone, you need to have some sort of structure or strategy, otherwise you will surely get th type of reckless spending we have thus far seen. There have been several articles printed recently that refer to this issue, but I’ll include them in another post.

As an aside I found it interesting that not once during his remarks did he even utter the word “withdrawal.” Why? Simply because Reed understands that withdrawal at this stage is not a solution even worth mentioning.

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