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Transferring Sovereignty

Transferring Sovereignty

Mini Teaser: Since November of last year the United States has been committed to transferring sovereignty to the Iraqis after June 30, 2004.

by Author(s): James Schlesinger

Since November of last year the United States has been committed to transferring sovereignty to the Iraqis after June 30, 2004. Even though Iraqis themselves will be making their own decisions regarding the civil order, the critical issue of security for Iraq will remain in American hands--and under the control of a selected four-star general. under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1511, Iraqi armed forces will be "a principal partner in the multinational force operating in Iraq under unified command", in accordance with the Transitional Administrative Law. Thus, even after the transfer of sovereignty, in the crucial area of security (which remains the largest challenge in Iraq) there will be little change from the current situation. Contrary to widespread public impressions, the transfer of authority on June 30 does not mean that the American role in Iraq is ending or that the United States is somehow washing its hands of Iraq.

In other words, June 30 is not a magic date after which unrest in Iraq will cease. Nor does it mean that significant numbers of U.S. troops can be swiftly withdrawn. Iraqis and Americans both must be prepared for the United States to continue to play a major role in Iraq.

Withdrawal before we have successfully stabilized Iraq is not an option. But the statement, "We will stay the course", while perhaps being a necessary exhortation, is not a strategy. "We will stay the course until we have an Iraqi force capable of providing reasonable security for the people of Iraq"--this is a strategy. But it means that there must be a viable plan to create such a force.

And this is why it is important to review the record of the past year, to understand where mistakes may have been made and to determine what needs to be done to ensure that we are successful in our mission in Iraq.

Only by embracing certain fundamental realities can the United States be successful in bringing order and sustaining stability in Iraq. First and foremost, establishing reasonable security is the prerequisite to achieve the goals of political stability. This implies that we should not expect Iraq to rise to the level of security in, say, Denmark or Japan.

Second, neither the American nor other coalition forces can, by themselves, impose security on Iraq. Iraqis themselves must provide indispensable support. Only Iraqis can gather the intelligence to identify the remnants of the old regime, other homegrown radicals and foreign terrorists that must be largely neutralized before adequate security can be insured. Moreover, it will be essential for Iraqi security forces to be the principal element in rooting out terrorists and destroying their cells--with the coalition's military forces increasingly playing a supporting role.

In principle, we have come to accept this reality, but in practice we have been too slow to act upon them effectively. Regrettably, a year has passed and the United States has not been able to create a functional Iraqi security force. While we have recruited several hundred thousand Iraqis into the security force, those forces have tended to melt away in times of difficulty. It may be that this behavior reflects a problem of morale--though that was not the judgment of those who observed Iraqis in action. Possibly it reflects a deeper unwillingness on the part of Iraqi security forces to use force on recalcitrant fellow Iraqis. But the most obvious answer is our own failure properly to train and properly to equip these security forces.

On the equipping issue, all too many months have gone by without appropriately vetted forces being appropriately equipped with weapons, protective gear and communications. That is a reflection of our own cumbersome budgetary and procurement procedures, which have imposed a high, long-run cost on our operations.

On the question of training, we have not allowed sufficient time for the training of individuals and the organizing of units with a high degree of cohesion. The task of training Iraqi security forces should be a principal obligation of American and coalition forces in country. Other nations, such as India--even if they have not contributed military forces--may be prepared to participate in training these security forces.

Second, we must focus more effectively on economic problems. There is a correlation between the high prevailing unemployment in Iraq and the restlessness and low morale spreading among the populace. Admittedly, initial expectations regarding an immediate and magical boost in living conditions were unrealistic. Yet, months have gone by without the improvement in living conditions that might realistically have been expected. The $18.4 billion that the Congress appropriated for reconstruction should have already begun to alleviate the problem--improving living conditions and expanding employment. It is a shame that so little of that $18.4 billion has been obligated to this point--and even significantly less has been spent. We must get that money flowing. Delay makes the problem worst. Yet, once again, it is our procurement procedures that have imposed these costs upon us. We cannot afford normal peacetime procurement procedures--with 60 days to submit responses to Requests For Proposals and another 60 days to assess them, and so on. Congress can act--quickly. It should assess whether existing requirements result in a penny-wise, pound-foolish outcome--and help ease self-defeating restraints.

As we look beyond June 30, we should seek a closer collaborative relationship between the Departments of State and Defense in implementing a strategy in Iraq than has been our experience to this point. The relationship between the civilians in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), mostly buttoned down in the Green Zone, and the military who have been out in the field, interacting with the Iraqis, has been something less than ideal. After all, it is the CPA that has maintained tight control over the resources, but it is the division commanders who have been in close contact with the Iraqis and know what are the local needs--and have too frequently been obliged to fund local activities out of their quite limited discretionary funds. The civil-military relationship worked far better in Vietnam--after General Creighton Abrams took command in 1968. He and Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker worked intimately in deciding what the needs were for the pacification program, and how to allocate resources. We should seek to achieve that degree of collaborative behavior once the new American embassy team comes into play this summer after the handover of sovereignty.

One final but crucial point. To date, our efforts to communicate with the Iraqis have been inadequate. Coalition forces, as well as Iraqi forces and government officials, are now under assault--some calculated and deliberated, but some emotional and mindless. It is time for us to remind Iraqis: "If you want a decent life, you must not support the elements that are destroying your country and may actually be seeking a civil war." We must persuade Iraqis to foresee the consequences of frustrating coalition efforts--on their behalf.

Yet we have failed to convey to the Iraqis what our intentions are--or have conveyed them belatedly. Consequently, all too many excellent and well-intentioned actions on our part have not gotten through to the Iraqi public. It is almost as important that such plans or such actions be understood, as that they be executed. The American-sponsored television station has not been well designed to attract an audience and has thus been peripheral for Iraqi viewers. The upshot has been that Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya have filled the void. Remember that Al-Jazeera's general manager was on Saddam's payroll. Al-Jazeera seems to have regularly been tipped off about any clashes in-country and, indeed, may have staged such events. It must be recognized that with unemployment as high as it is, demonstrations are easy to buy. We have discovered many times over the past year that simple payment in cash has been a principal motive for many of those engaged in attacking either Americans or Iraqis.

The decision to go into Iraq was a fateful one--not only for Iraqis, but for the Greater Middle East and for the credibility of American foreign policy. In order to see it through successfully, we must be prepared to adapt to changing conditions.

Essay Types: Essay