In early 2004, after my second visit to Iraq, several peace organizations proposed solutions to the war in that country that examined the military, political and economic aspects of the conflict. It was based on extensive involvement and visits with most of the warring parties – religious, ethnic, social, “occupation” – and, like the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, factored in regional history and today’s geopolitics.
Our conclusion was that “victory” could not be achieved by military strategy. Economic and political progress in Iraq was much more important that whether WMDs or Saddam were ever found. However, by late 2003 all United Nations agencies, and all but a handful of international organizations, had fled the country, in part, due to U.S. military and covert actions.
The country was descending into crisis.
Since that time, Iraqis have seen electricity, jobs, water, gasoline and healthcare plummet. What was an inconvenience during the years of sanctions suddenly became a life-or-death struggle, even for middle-class citizens and the privileged. Refugees fled in large numbers to neighboring countries.
I had witnessed this descending pattern of violence before before.
At the height of the Bosnian conflict, peacemakers from around the world gathered in that country to make sense of that conflict where mass killings were again occurring in Europe. We met with all sides, from the sniper who bragged about how he selected his targets, to ordinary citizens occupying the homes of their victims.
I still remember one Catholic woman, who kindly brought us tea as we traversed the road to Sarajevo. She admitted that she was living home of a former Muslim, but stated that she left everything as she found it – including the Quoran on the mantle – should the owner ever return.
Despite her prayers for peace, we saw what followed: random killing by “occupation forces”, international inaction, mass murder, burnings of churches and mosques, and influx of “freedom fighters” from the Middle East.
Bosnia ended up a ruined country, ethnically divided, and much worse than before.
As I observed this week’s testimony to Congress by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, it occurred to me that I had watched this debate before.
On one hand was the “use of force” proponent, giving an optimistic military assessment. On the other, was a seasoned diplomat, with a realistic view of the political situation. Both were grilled by politicians who know little of history, foreign affairs, or battle-ground conditions.
Missing, was discussion of the third leg – economic – upon which much of the success of Iraq rests.
In 2004, despite my distrust of military planners, I authored an economic development plan for Baghdad, on behalf of General Chiarelli and the 1st Cavalry Division which was to take over responsibility for that area of Iraq. The Plan focused on “quick start” strategies of job creation, demonstrating U.S. goodwill, building links across ethnic/religious groups, meeting street-level needs, and fostering economic sustainability. To the credit of the 1st CD, they did attempt to enact some of those recommendations.
But then came Fallujah.
In the first major battle after the 2003, U.S. troops descended upon that city to take on the growing insurgency after four contractors were killed. Even after destroying more than a third of town, imposing retina scans and checkpoints, the military has been unable to completely passify that city. That’s one reason why they report deaths in “Al Anbar” instead of saying Fallujah.
After that debacle came Abu Ghraib, Samarra, Haditha, Baquoba and a host of what could only be called “war crimes” as the conflict escalated. Yet, the debate remains fixated upon military strategy and the view of generals and politicians (certainly not that of either the people of Iraq or America who want a withdrawal!).