Beyond Iraq

November 15, 2006 Topic: Security Region: Persian GulfMiddle East

Beyond Iraq

Congress should look now towards preventing future Iraqs, the creation of more terrorists and years of global mistrust and conflict which could run a great cost to national security.

With the election over-and national security figuring so prominently in the campaigns-the looming question remains: What's the new national security agenda?

Iraq is on center stage, with Washington eagerly awaiting the results of the Baker-Hamilton commission, as an impetus for pulling our national irons out of the Iraqi fire. Indeed, the election winners must now propose a rich agenda of options on Iraq, none of which should be: "stay the (disastrous) current course." These should include the option to leave, as gracefully as possible, over the next year, just ahead of receiving an invitation to do so from whatever government speaks for Baghdad-once it figures out that the United States is part of the problem.

But while important, the new Congress must promptly make Iraq yesterday's issue. Unless lawmakers focus on the broader, long-term security agenda, we are in for more Iraqs and more terrorists. Due to the Iraq imbroglio, we have failed to assemble the right mix of diplomatic, foreign assistance, and military instruments to implement a security agenda.

Iraq has exposed our excessive reliance on the military for reconstruction and governance missions, because we don't have the right diplomats and managers to do those jobs. It is also time to think seriously about our military tool, what its role is in meeting broader goals and whether it really makes any sense to increase the size of the Army. Once back from Iraq-and they will be-U.S. military forces do not need to grow, rather they should be restructured, transformed, prepared for peacekeeping tasks and the small, but nasty job of working against terrorist organizations.

Note to the Armed Services Committees: beware of what you wish for. America could be stuck with a larger, significantly more expensive, but ineffective military and few places to use it. The temptation then to reach for the military, instead of diplomacy and international engagement, will be great. We must focus on tomorrow's need, not the requirement of rotating forces in a hostile and occupied Iraq-unless, of course, another Iraq is on the agenda. The American people don't seem to think so.

If terrorist organizations are the problem-and we should be prepared to deal with them as a long-term, nasty sideshow-then we need the right mix of instruments: law enforcement, intelligence cooperation and diplomacy with both supportive and uncooperative nations (read Syria and Iran), and even more intensive international financial cooperation. The military will play only a supporting role.

And while Congress is at it, it must fix the broken budgetary system over at the Pentagon. Six years of emergency supplemental budget requests-rushed through the Pentagon and the White House and largely unexplained, and passed by a Congress eager to demonstrate it "supports the troops"-has broken the way we budget for defense. Emergency supplementals, at over $100 billion a year, are lethal to sensible planning. It's time to get off the supplemental gravy train, put those post-Iraq Army "reset" requests through the regular Pentagon budget system, and find the trade-offs with other requirements.

We have neither a unique talent nor an unblemished record in creating democracies abroad. That task is long and tough and relies on indigenous trends and forces-not our money or good will. And even benign U.S. intervention overseas is viewed with suspicion. What most of the world seeks are reasonably effective, responsive governments capable of delivering the goods: security, social aid and an environment hospitable to economic development. Let's focus on that objective, and create coalitions to respond.

And what about hatred itself? Not just hatred of the United States but the toxic identity conflicts that riddle the globe. "Public diplomacy" has been dealing with these-trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear in the case of Iraq. How can we, with others, foster dialogue among people who hate each other for religious or ethnic reasons? The extent of our government response has been to mouth platitudes about moderates and radicals within the religions of others.

We must also seriously ask the following questions: What are we doing to reverse the global trend toward economic inequality and grinding poverty that provide a seedbed for radicalism and anti-Americanism? How should we cope with failed states and weak governance around the world-another source of radicalism and hatred? Do our foreign assistance programs make sense and what is the State Department doing to address our 15 baskets of foreign assistance, lacking an integrated structure?

Before the gap between the rich and the poor becomes a casus belli around the world, we must devise an integrated, international strategy on trade and economic assistance. Further, we can't send the Marines to shore up every failing government, as the current crisis in Somalia suggests. And why must it be "we" who do the sending? Our friends and allies have the same stake in stability and good governance in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Then there is energy. Massive majorities of Americans believe the looming energy crisis and the attendant danger of global warming are the most critical long-term national security issues we face. ANWAR drilling is not the answer. Probing and educative hearings and legislative proposals are urgently needed to confront these long-term threats to our security and address: how to lessen dependence on oil, diversify energy sources and protect the environment.

There is real risk that the next two years will be spent in partisan bickering and positioning. Before long, we will be treated to a dispute on Iraq about whether new policy options "support the troops," "finish the job," or will ensure "victory" in Iraq.

It is a silly, useless, rhetorical debate that does not move policy or the nation forward. The broader national security agenda could get lost in the renewed cycle of "spin." If it does we should expect years of global mistrust, terror, and conflict-at great price to our national security.

Gordon Adams is a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where he is writing a book on national security resource planning. From 1993 to 1997, he was the senior White House budget official for national security.