More than 10 years after George W. Bush declared “Mission Accomplished,” Iraq is far from the stable democracy that the United States sought. Violence in Iraq is now higher than at any point since 2007, the peak of American engagement.
While the US successfully toppled the Iraqi military in 2003, it failed to secure peace in the following years. Although the Iraqi Army and Republican Guard were crushed in a matter of weeks, US troops soon found themselves fighting a full-blown insurgency. 98 percent of all war casualties, including civilians, occurred after President Bush declared the end of major combat operations.
Many mistakes were made in the invasion of Iraq and the occupation that followed. Most mistakes were simply bad decisions made by bad leaders. However, the biggest institutional problem was the lack of an effective nation-building agency.
Some argue that nation-building is a fool’s errand that doesn’t work. While rebuilding a nation devastated by war is no easy task, it is not impossible. While Germany and Japan were far more devastated by war than Iraq, American nation-building allowed post-war West Germany and Japan to go through some of the greatest economic “miracles” in history. Furthermore, both countries are now stable democracies.
Others say that it is neither our responsibility nor in our interest to rebuild broken countries. This is fallacious logic for many reasons. From a moral standpoint, the US is obligated to assist in the rebuilding of the nations that it devastated through war (you break, it you buy it). From a pragmatic standpoint, failure to nation build leads to prolonged, bloody occupations that put US troops and civilians in danger. As mentioned above, most deaths in the Iraq War occurred years after the initial invasion. In contrast, the effective post-WWII nation building ensured that occupation was essentially bloodless; there is no recorded instance of an Allied soldier being killed during the occupation of Germany, and Japanese resistance was restricted to a few straggling die-hards in the jungle. This is because people become angry when they lack economic prosperity. Thus, they become enticed by insurgents who offer a chance to fight against those who devastated their nation as well as a regular paycheck. (Without jobs, many Iraqis became insurgents for monetary reasons.)
The problem with recent nation building in Iraq hasn’t been intention, but rather poor execution. It is difficult to imagine how the initial effort to rebuild Iraq could have been worse. While the Allies planned the occupation of Germany two years in advance, the occupation of Iraq was planned two months before the invasion. Many important jobs were awarded to people based on political connections rather than merit. L. Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), did not speak Arabic, nor did he have any diplomatic experience in the Middle East. Also, Bremer’s background was in diplomacy, not nation-building. The woman in charge of Baghdad’s traffic was fresh out of Georgetown and had no experience in a role with such responsibility.
These shortcomings showed as unemployment in Iraq officially reached 27 percent, though the actual figure is probably around 40-50 percent. The Pentagon still has no idea what happened to $6.6 billion in cash that were intended for Iraq’s reconstruction. Currently, Iraq’s electricity output is 4,500 MW while its demand is 6,400 MW, an unacceptable situation in light of Iraq’s unbearable summer heat. Baghdad only has 380 waste collection trucks, while it had 1,200 before the war and now requires 1,500. 1.9 million Iraqis are food insecure, according to the World Food Program.
The problem with our execution is that it is unclear who’s in charge of nation-building. Neither the Pentagon nor the State Department wants the job, especially since the Pentagon would rather concentrate on war, and the State Department wants to concentrate on diplomacy (as they should). USAID wants to have a part of the mission but lacks the resources to take charge. Ultimately, the job falls on ad hoc organizations made up of unqualified personnel (like the CPA) or US troops that are trained to fight, not build roads or distribute aid.
Thus, the US must create a cabinet-level Department of Peace (DoP) dedicated to nation-building. The creation of an agency solely dedicated to nation-building will end the pressure on troops and let the Pentagon and State Department focus on their jobs. Also, the personnel would entirely consist of those trained or experienced in nation-building, ensuring that qualified personnel would head any on the ground efforts.
Furthermore, the Secretary of Nation-Building would get to advise the President as a member of the cabinet. Thus, the President would be better informed on the aftermath of wars.
The DoP could work like the military’s Unified Combatant Command system, where different commands have responsibility over different geographic areas. This would allow personnel to become familiar with the nuances and cultures of the countries that they would be working in.
The cost of the DoP would be on the order of tens of billions of dollars annually, but probably less than $50 billion. This is a modest amount, especially considering that the Pentagon spends hundreds of billions annually.
America is better at winning wars than any nation in history; however, the US is not so good at winning the peace. This is critical because the US is currently engaged in nation-building in Afghanistan as well as Chad, Mexico, the Philippines, and Colombia to a lesser extent. With minor investment in a department solely dedicated to nation-building, America can start winning the peace.