General Jay Garner has had to bring order out of chaos before. In 1991, after the first Persian Gulf war, he supervised Operation Provide Comfort, which supplied food and shelter for the Kurdish population in northern Iraq. He is a proponent of the view that the military should be “a merciful instrument in shaping future humanitarian operations.” It would be hard to find anyone better prepared to oversee the rebuilding of Iraq and its transition to democracy. General Garner is charged, however, with advancing two conflicting goals.
On the one hand, Garner’s overseers in the Pentagon envisage a quick turnover of the country to new, elected Iraqi leadership. On the other hand, rebuilding a nation and especially establishing a democracy require time. Without long-term international involvement, Iraq could collapse into chaos or become the latest militant theocracy. Fareed Zakaria, author of The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, reckons it will take a minimum of five to seven years for democracy to take hold in Iraq.
Whether the United States has the sticking power for nation-building is a vexing question. Both the military as an institution and administration strategists have shown deeply held antipathies to nation-building. In Afghanistan, the Bush administration has already dropped the ball, failing to make adequate commitments in the first place and then reneging significantly on its stated commitments of aid, even as the country slips back toward war-lordism and anarchy.
Suspicion lingers that the military is not well equipped to lead people into peace. But that is not necessarily so. General Douglas MacArthur did a remarkable job overseeing the reconstruction and founding of democratic institutions in postwar Japan. In Bosnia, while international officials squabbled among themselves, NATO “civpol” (civic and political) personnel were sometimes the only people who listened to the problems of war victims and attempted to resolve them. Maj. Gen. William Nash, the NATO commander in Bosnia, frustrated over the lack of progress on the civilian side, promoted initiatives to help restore the economic infrastructure in that country. So the military can play a constructive role in post-conflict situations.
What is worrisome about the postwar transition in Iraq is the Pentagon’s reluctance, not only to involve the United Nations, but also to cooperate normally with the international humanitarian agencies that ordinarily work in this kind of environment. Usually they work independently and with impartiality, and most have insisted on doing so in Iraq. During the 1990’s, considerable preparation was made for cooperative work arrangements between the military and the humanitarian agencies. But the Rumsfeld Pentagon has rejected these for direct military involvement through the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, headed by General Garner, and a few favored for-profit and nonprofit agencies.
Already relief groups working with Pentagon approval find that their integration with military and intelligence personnel in provincial reconstruction teams is compromising their traditional impartiality and professional standards. A report circulated by Interaction, a Washington-based humanitarian advocacy group, indicates the agencies, such as CARE, have been denied access for assessment of needs and delivery of aid and have faced “disapproval of plans for non-professional reasons.”
The administration has even sidelined the United States Agency for International Development and its distinguished administrator, Andrew Natios. A former Republican legislator from Massachusetts, Natios was administrator of the Office of Overseas Disaster Assistance in the first Bush administration and World Vision’s Washington representative in the early Clinton years. After winning for itself control of the lion’s share of postwar aid to Iraq and leaving U.S.A.I.D. with the leftovers, the Pentagon is now insisting that the agency report to it. This is an outrageous power grab. What kind of lesson does it give in democratic values?
To triumph over the forces of anarchy and authoritarianism, democracy depends not just on free elections, but on institutional pluralism and civic institutions. It is reasonable that the military play a visible role in the transition from war to peace. But by excluding the humanitarian groups and domineering over U.S.A.I.D., the Rumsfeld Defense Department offers a dangerous counterexample. Preparation for war with Iraq brought a militarization of U.S. foreign policy. Now that the war is won, both peacemaking and nation-building are undergoing militarization. It is an unpromising and dangerous course of action for both Iraq and the United States.