Clear and Present Danger

Today is the tenth anniversary of my arrival in Iraq to direct the information warfare operation. I feel down-to-earth even down-trodden about Iraq especially after last Saturday’s provincial elections; unlike President Bush who declared “Mission Accomplished” on 1 May 2003 while on a dramatic visit to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. The worlds’ eyes and ears on focused on Iran and North Korea, so let me remind you of Iraq; the mission is not yet accomplished; there is clear and present danger; not just in Iraq but looking forward to Syria and on the back of Libya; because of the slipshod of the mission in Iraq.

American troops left Iraq in December 2011 ostensibly having solved all the reasons why they arrived in the first place. However solving one problem creates another. Today instead of the brutal Saddam dictatorship with all an all intrusive centralized yet secular Baath party, Iraqi politics is paralyzed by sectarian infighting over power-sharing agreements. The incumbent Prime Minister Maliki’s rivals accuse the Shi’ite premier of consolidating power at the expense of Sunni and Kurdish partners. The US has returned, not with troops, but with “A Chamber of Control” seeking to implement a new political system to resolve all political problems through a preliminary plan for the federal application; granting each of the three adjacent provinces national and ethnic identity and broad administrative powers.

Perhaps the futility of such a suggestion and the reality of the ongoing sectarian violence was the cause for the elections only enticing 50% of eligible voters to the polls. Those who did vote appeared caught between hope for improvement, apathy and resignation about how much would change after the election of nearly 450 provincial council members who have the power to elect state governors. Many felt that the system is weak both for this year’s provisional elections and next year’s national elections. Clearly people are not prepared for how quickly Iraq came to democracy. Perhaps democracy in Iraq still needs time, maybe three or four more elections; or maybe the 250 years that it took the United States to reach where it is today.

The political situation in Iraq is a direct result of the Achilles’ heel of the US Defense Establishment’s “Field Manual (FM) 3-24, Counterinsurgency.” The two most important counterinsurgency (COIN) campaigns that the US Army faced in Iraq and Afghanistan were campaigns in which newly created democratic governments were struggling. The manual was written in the shadow of a specific American political policy; democracy promotion was a key tenet of American foreign policy and was the basis for the goal of COIN. In hindsight it is apparent that pushing for democracy too early has not been feasible or even advisable. Today the manual is being rewritten with the key question whether its foundation on the promotion of host nation government legitimacy should be preserved. Political legitimacy is a key problem in COIN operations and something that the US did not get right in Iraq.

This is probably why the US has been hesitant to stay the course for the reconstruction of Libya, after NATO military operations and the reluctance to intervene in Syria. There is no policy for US armed forces to apply because the lessons of the malfunction of the doctrine in Iraq are still being analyzed; the new manual is work in progress. The fundamental letdown in Iraq stemmed from the method chosen to spread democracy in Iraq; it was a variation of democratization theory based on the idea that if one creates democratic institutions, the population’s values will change to embrace these institutions. This was the “Field of Dreams” philosophy: if you build it, they will come.

The policy in Iraq required that when America decided it was in her national security interests to intervene in a situation where there was either a failed state or where America had effected regime change; then it did not matter what form of government the local population saw as legitimate. When America departed, the only form of government that would be acceptable was one that supported democratic institutions, and not just any democratic institution, but one that promoted individual freedom and had a liberal form of political legitimacy. However there was no manner to determine which value set the local population was using or which form of legitimacy it was likely to accept. The only form of legitimacy offered was constitutional governance via elections. No other alternatives were given. As a consequence Iraq is struggling to find stability.

Consequently in December 2012 the US Department of Defense instructed in “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership” that “U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.” This is a clear written doctrine and policy statement that regular US forces will not conduct operations in Syria or reconstruct Libya. It means that it is accepted and understood that military force and military means cannot bring democracy, capitalism and stability; it means the world is in limbo; consequently it means that there is clear and present danger throughout;

This does not mean that the US does not care, it does not mean that the US will not offer non-military assistance; it just means that the world should not expect the US to undertake another Iraq or Afghanistan type mission; it means that the locals in Syria and Libya have to find their own best ways to solve their own domestic problems. At stake is the clear and present danger that radical Islamic movements could take roost in these countries. Rewriting “Field Manual (FM) 3-24, Counterinsurgency” is therefore a priority; America desperately wishes to lend a hand but is in an ongoing process of defining how best to do so.

Dr. Glen Segell, FRGS, is Researcher at The Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv, Lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and Senior Researcher for the Ariel Research Center for Defense and Communication

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.