bg1589es: In Post-War Iraq, Use Military Forces to Secure VitalU.S. Interests, Not for Nation-Building

Report Middle East

bg1589es: In Post-War Iraq, Use Military Forces to Secure VitalU.S. Interests, Not for Nation-Building

September 25, 2002 4 min read

Authors: Baker Spring and Jack Spencer

As the Administration intensifies its efforts to build international support for a U.S.-led campaign to end Saddam Hussein's brutal and menacing regime in Iraq, some are questioning America's commitment to an effort to rebuild Iraq after such a war. The Administration has yet to present its plans for post-war Iraq. But that should be the last element of its argument that military force is needed to oust a regime that actively supports terrorism and pursues weapons of mass destruction (WMD) despite pressure from the United Nations to stop. (Details of Iraq's weapons programs are included in the paper's Appendix.)

Securing U.S. Interests
The President should make it clear that a U.S. military presence in post-war Iraq will be deployed to secure vital U.S. interests, but not as an exercise in so-called nation-building, the open-ended policy of his predecessor in which American troops were sent into troubled regions where vital U.S. security interests were not directly threatened. In many cases, the Clinton Administration used this policy reactively to accommodate the concerns of other countries, mistakenly assuming that their interests were always America's. Often this meant expanding the definition of peacekeeping beyond what it was intended to accomplish. Consequently, U.S. forces found themselves in situations not suited to the use of military force.

To make it clear that a post-war U.S. military operation in Iraq would not be another nation-building exercise, the Bush Administration should state that the U.S. military will be deployed to Iraq to secure the vital U.S. security interests for which the campaign would be undertaken in the first place. Specifically, these war aims are to:

  • Protect the American homeland, people, and institutions against attack, which will require the U.S. military to destroy Iraq's terrorist infrastructure and weapons of mass destruction programs;
  • Prevent the rise of Iraq as a dominant and hostile power in the Persian Gulf region, while not allowing its elimination to become an opportunity for domination by a hostile Iran;
  • Protect Iraq's energy infrastructure against internal sabotage or foreign attack to return Iraq to global energy markets and ensure that U.S. and world energy markets have access to its resources.

At the political level, the Administration also should utilize the post-war U.S. military presence to help give Iraq's new, presumably more friendly leaders a better opportunity to develop an inclusive, federal system of self-government. In cooperation with other countries, U.S. forces should assist in providing the basic security for the process of political and economic reconstruction to take place. However, it should not be up to U.S. military forces to construct this new government. Whatever new security structure is put in place after Saddam Hussein is gone, U.S. forces should not be saddled with the responsibility of governing the county or of creating the political entities that are to govern. That should be left to the Iraqi people and whatever interim government is created to govern the transition process.

Organizing the Post-War Force
Organizing the post-war U.S. military presence in Iraq around these three specific war aims would enable the Administration to define the scope of the military mission for the American people and to justify a continued presence in Iraq. The Administration's plan for the involvement of U.S. military forces in Iraq after the war to eliminate Saddam Hussein's brutal regime should rest on three foreign policy pillars:

  1. Post-war U.S. military activities should be focused on securing war aims, not on administering the country or creating a new government. That should be left to the civilian authorities of an interim Iraqi government.
  2. A force sufficient to topple the Iraqi regime would be more than sufficient to conduct the post-combat military activities. Dislodging the current regime should require a combat force of roughly 100,000 U.S. troops. This force would heavily favor air power over ground troops, and require no more than one corps of ground forces. The post-combat U.S. presence, augmented by allied forces, should include roughly 40,000 U.S. troops whose mission is to destroy the terrorist networks and cells, eliminate Iraq's WMD arsenal and infrastructure, protect its energy resources, and block Iranian hegemony in the region. U.S. military planners should not allow the missions to expand into vague "peacekeeping" activities, as they did under the Clinton Administration.
  3. Post-war military activities in Iraq should not be subject to arbitrary deadlines. Securing the U.S. war aims cannot be accomplished according to arbitrarily established deadlines. However, the Administration should avoid making the U.S. military presence appear to be indefinite. Specific end goals for the U.S. military should be established and, once they are achieved, U.S. forces should be scaled back to enable them to prepare for other contingencies. The exit criteria should be the President's certification that each war aim has been achieved. The size of the force in Iraq should be reduced incrementally as each war aim is certified. Any U.S. and allied military forces that remain in Iraq should be to bolster the efforts of a new friendly government and to ensure that vital U.S. interests in the region remain secure.

Baker Spring is F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy and Jack Spencer is Policy Analyst for Defense and National Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.


Baker Spring
Baker Spring

Former Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy

Jack Spencer
Jack Spencer

Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom