The aftermath of the war in Iraq is not going as well as the lightning-quick victory. The country remains in chaos, with anarchy in many cities, including parts of Baghdad. The first U.S. official in charge of reconstructing Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner, left the country on May 6 and was replaced with L. Paul Bremer III.
“Alarmed by rampant crime and remnants of Iraq’s vanquished leadership, the United States has signaled its intention in recent days to use a firmer hand in directing this country’s political future and filling a worrisome security vacuum that has undermined U.S. credibility here in the weeks since the end of the war,” the Washington Post reported Sunday. This reflects “a growing concern among U.S. officials and everyday Iraqis over disorder in a capital still partly without electricity or telephone service.”
The number of U.S. troops in Baghdad was boosted the past month to 25,000 from 16,000. The number of troops in all Iraq also has been increased in recent days by 15,000, “bringing the U.S. presence to nearly 160,000,” the Post reported. “There also are 40,000 British troops in the country.”
“The Bush administration did a much better job planning the war than it did the postwar administration of Iraq,” said Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. “This shows, again, that American military personnel are just not trained for police-type situations.” He pointed to similar problems the past decade in Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
The “nucleus” of a new Iraqi government, a precursor to democratic elections at some indefinite time in the future, was supposed to be in place by the end of May. That has been put off to June.
In the midst of all this, 10,000 Shiite protesters in Baghdad “marched peacefully through the capital Monday to protest the American occupation of Iraq and reject what they feared would be a U.S.-installed puppet government,” AP reported.
To avoid Iraq becoming a quagmire, Carpenter suggested U.S. authorities move quickly to establish a new government run by Iraqis. It should “avoid ambitious nation-building,” he said, echoing a theme President Bush himself used in his 2000 campaign.
“We don’t have to stay in Iraq until it becomes a stable, model democracy,” Carpenter said. “That could be decades, if it ever is achieved. Instead, turn it over to the Iraqis as soon as possible and abide by the result, even if it is not always desirable.”
If not, he warned, “we could end up with Northern Ireland or Lebanon in the mid-1980s,” two areas with longstanding ethnic and religious conflicts. “That could be an incredibly frustrating mission.”
It’s time to start planning for what Secretary of State Powell, in his famous “Powell Doctrine,” called an exit strategy — one that lays the groundwork for an Iraqi regime that is as representative of its people as possible at this point, won’t bring back Saddam (if he’s still alive) and won’t harbor terrorists. The exit strategy should be formulated, communicated to the American people and implemented as quickly as possible.