January 27, 2005

January 27, 2005 | Commentary on Middle East

Promise for Iraq's Future

The day after Sunday's election, the country will seem much like it did the day before. Innocents, alas, will likely be murdered. Bombs will shred passing vehicles. Terrorists will populate Web sites with images of slaughter and propaganda.

Americans are right to be concerned, but we shouldn't yield to despair. The claim that failure is inevitable if every problem isn't solved by election time is simply wrongheaded. Elections don't ensure the future. Elections hold the promise of a future.

Would Austria survive? Yes

Consider Austria right after World War II, when it was occupied by American, British, French and Russian forces. Within six months, free elections were held. A year later, in 1946, Russia and the West were at each other's throats. Murder, rape and theft were commonplace, and the lack of food, fuel and housing endemic. The freely elected officials of the Austrian government met in secret, wondering whether their nation could survive.

Today, it's hard to imagine that Austria ever saw such fearful days. Yet, elections didn't save Vienna from the barbarians. Sound strategy did. American efforts in postwar Europe practiced what military planners called the "disease and unrest formula." They outlined three tasks to keep a defeated nation from chaos: (1) avoiding a humanitarian crisis; (2) setting up a legitimate government; (3) establishing domestic security forces.

Security took the longest, but by 1948, the government could stand by itself.

The three tasks are a suitable standard by which to measure any occupation. In Iraq, the first has been accomplished. There is no humanitarian disaster. Iraqis, in fact, are far better off than many Europeans were, even years after World War II. The Iraqi economy is already growing at a faster rate than the Austrian economy after the war.

Legitimacy is also at hand. The international community has recognized the new regime. Elections will likely be sufficient to constitute a representative government.

Iraq, however, will become a stable and prosperous nation only if the third task, establishing domestic security forces, is achieved. The clear-headed, realistic strategy that we're pursuing will help, as long as we're willing to avoid the temptation to exit too early.

Will U.S. or Iraqi forces deal with the insurgency? Given that defeating it will likely take years, relying on American forces is the wrong answer. The presence of Americans only provides an excuse to incite violence. While our troops are there, this deployment is diminishing their ability to conduct other missions. Turning Iraq over to the Iraqis is the right answer, if done correctly.

Failure in Vietnam

We've tried this before. In 1968, Army Gen. Creighton Abrams assumed command of U.S. forces in Vietnam. He rejected a strategy of attrition. His predecessor, Gen. William Westmoreland, tried to win the war with U.S. troops, believing if they just killed enough, the enemy would quit. Abrams' strategy gave the future of Vietnam to the Vietnamese. He trained and equipped their army, and that army stood and fought, and held its ground - until the U.S. Congress cut off funding, even as Russia and China poured weapons and supplies into the North. Without ammunition, parts and air support, the South fell. We can do better.

  • First, effectively equipping, training, mentoring and supporting Iraqi security forces must become a reality, rather than a Pentagon PowerPoint presentation. The missteps and starting over have to stop. Fire people who don't produce. Keep those who know what they're doing.
  • Second, it's crucial to maintain congressional support. The president has to explain the strategy to the leaders of Congress, giving the bad news as well as the good. They need to know how funds are being spent, how contracts are being managed and exactly how the spending is making an impact.
  • Third, we must continue to invest real resources, even after our troops pull out. The Iraqis need better intelligence, equipment and transportation than the terrorists.
  • Fourth, sanctuaries must be eliminated. As long as terrorists have places in Iraq or Syria, or anywhere else they can go to regroup and refit, trying to provide security in Iraq will be like bailing a bottomless boat. All of the instruments of power must be applied to the sanctuary problem. U.S.-led efforts so far have been ineffective.

Without these actions, successful elections in Iraq will mean little.

History books will likely record the Jan. 30 election as a turning point - the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning. In truth, the real turning point will be what's done after the vote.

James Jay Carafano is a senior research fellow for defense and homeland security at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First appeared in USA Today.