THIS FRIDAY at Rutgers School of Law in Newark, NJ, EPIC supporters will join Iraq War veteran Kevin Murphy for IRAQ AT THE CROSSROADS. Coming less than two weeks before the Presidential election, this important national gathering will explore one of the greatest humanitarian challenges to be faced by the next President of the United States.
IRAQ AT THE CROSSROADS: Protecting Refugees, Rescuing Our Allies, and Empowering Iraqi Law A National Symposium at Rutgers School of Law, Newark, NJ October 24th, 2008 (Friday) 8:30 am – 5:30 pm Register online via http://www.lawrecord.com
EPIC is proud to announce that National Editor of The Washington Post, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, will deliver the opening keynote address. Speakers will also include Emily Gish of Mercy Corps, Bob Carey of International Rescue Committee, Sam Parker of the U.S. Institute of Peace, Rep. Bill Pascrell, Hilary Ingraham of the U.S. State Department, and others.
At the same time, we’re all looking for more intellectual honesty and less knee-jerk partisan rhetoric. The McCain-Palin camp ought to offer more “straight talk” about U.S. shortcomings in Iraq and the region (especially surrounding the displacement and vulnerability of millions of Iraqis). The Obama-Biden ticket ought to explain how their administration will withdraw U.S. forces in a way that leaves sustainable security and continuing political progress behind, and it’s hard to do that without being honest and forthcoming about where U.S. efforts have done some good. The first candidate who breaks out of the partisan framing of the “Iraq issue” will be the first to look truly Presidential in the eyes of thoughtful American voters.
So here’s the hard-to-swallow pill that the Washington Post prescribes to Obama:
…it’s now clear that the political progress that the Bush administration hoped would follow the surge of U.S. forces in Iraq has finally begun. How can the next president preserve that momentum? Democrat Barack Obama continues to argue that only the systematic withdrawal of U.S. combat units will force Iraqi leaders to compromise. Yet the empirical evidence of the past year suggests the opposite: that only the greater security produced and guaranteed by American troops allows a political environment in which legislative deals and free elections are feasible.
Indeed, it’s time for both sides to reckon with the realities of Iraq no matter how inconvenient to old partisan narratives. Do that and you’ll be offering change we all can believe in.
According to Secretary Gates, “This continuing drawdown is possible because of the success achieved in reducing violence and building Iraqi security capacity.”
However, Republican Rep. John M. McHugh of New York questioned the sustainability of security improvements and building up Iraqi security capacity while drawing down U.S. forces. He cited a July 2008 GAO report that finds significant deficiencies in the training of Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), including a shortage of U.S. personnel. According to the GAO, the U.S. military has failed to develop a comprehensive strategy to solve the shortage of manpower for training the ISF. Admiral Mullen said plans for comprehensive training are being addressed and that the root problem is a need for more personnel to train private security contractors (PSCs).
Secretary Gates also expressed caution about the rate of future troop withdrawals. Covering the hearing, today’s Washington Postreports:
Despite their focus on Afghanistan, both Gates and Mullen said that the situation in Iraq remains uncertain and could require more forces in the future. “I worry that the great progress” by U.S. and Iraqi forces could override caution and lead to an excessively rapid drawdown, said Gates, noting that U.S. commanders in Iraq remain concerned about “many challenges and potential for reversals.” In sum, he said, “we should expect to be involved in Iraq for years to come, although in changing and increasingly limited ways.”
Another challenge to ensuring sustainable security in Iraq is the flagging development of Iraqi institutions and civil society, something Secretary Gates acknowledged in his testimony. However, when a Representative pointedly asked if Iraq is “coup-proof”, Gates failed to mention the role that a strong civilian government and civil society can play in preventing a military takeover or return to widespread sectarian violence. Instead, he highlighted the Government of Iraq’s reappointment of new military leaders as helping to ensure that all factions of Iraqi society feel represented and protected.
Sectarian, corrupt, incompetent, and turncoat officers have been removed. Aggressive recruitment and new amnesty and de-Baathification ordinances have led to increases in both the number of Sunnis, especially in the officer corps, and the number of people with prior military experience in the forces. Now, about 80 percent of the Iraqi army’s officers and 50 percent of its rank and file are veterans of Saddam Hussein’s military, and one of the most capable units in the Iraqi army, the First Brigade of the First Infantry Division, is 60 percent Sunni
Of course, making Iraq both “coup proof” and peaceful will require additional democratic safeguards and a more holistic approach to building security. For example, consider the stabilizing role of humanitarian relief and protection for 4.8 million displaced Iraqis (nearly 17% of Iraq’s entire population). Large numbers of Iraqi middle-class professionals — desperately needed for Iraq’s recovery and development — have fled to Syria, Jordan, and other nearby countries. In addition, women, young children, and the elderly — all of whom are the least likely to perpetrate violence — are disproportionately represented among the dispossessed. By working to ensure the survival of all of these displaced Iraqis and by creating conditions in Iraq that allow many to eventually return — voluntarily, in safety, and with dignity — the U.S. and international community can support a ‘virtuouse cycle’ that leads to lasting peace and prosperity in Iraq.
Likewise, strengthening civilian institutions, improving public education, expanding access to health care, providing reliable electricity, and supporting the development of a vibrant Iraqi middle class are essential elements of healthy democracies.
To phase out the heavy U.S. military presence in Iraq responsibly, safely and with the careful consideration that was lacking at the war’s inception, a re-balancing of U.S. policy on Iraq is needed. Congress ought to hold additional hearings to assess the U.S. administration’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and the region, and what more can be done to stabilize Iraq through effective humanitarian relief and development assistance.
Photo Caption: Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen testifies before a House panel on developing security conditions and U.S. military requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan (Source: Washington Post, 9/10/08, photo by Mark Wilson, Getty Images).
Specifically, H.R. 6496 supports a multi-year, comprehensive plan to address the deepening crisis facing Iraqi refugees, displaced persons and other vulnerable Iraqis by doing the following:
Authorizing $700 million for each of the fiscal years 2009, 2010 and 2011 for the relief of Iraqi refugees, internally displaced persons, and other vulnerable Iraqis;
Increasing direct accountable bilateral assistance, as appropriate under U.S. law, and funding for international organizations and NGOs working in the region;
Authorizing $500 million to increase infrastructure support for Jordan to help meet the needs of 100,000s of Iraqi refugees;
Providing technical assistance to grow the capacity of Iraqi government agencies responding to humanitarian needs inside Iraq;
Increasing Iraqi refugees admissions to the United States by 20,000 for FY 2009, 2010 and 2011, and requires improvements in the efficiency of the resettlement application process;
Establishing a Special Coordinator for Iraqi Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons within the Executive Office of the President to ensure expeditious and effective implementation of the overall strategy; and
Urging increased cooperation between the United States government and the international community to address this crisis.
The bill has already been endorsed by more than 25 non-governmental organizations and religious groups and is generating a huge amount of excitement in the NGO community. In their editorial, Congressmen Hastings and Dingell urge their colleagues to “set partisan politics aside and work together to find common solutions to this desperate situation.”
To very briefly summarize, Kimberly Kagan laid out the familiar argument for the surge’s success and the great progress being made, with more nuance and caveats than in some of her op-eds (but still drawing this from Colin Kahl: “I guess I see the glass half-empty, and Kim sees the glass as… overflowing”). Charles Knight gave a highly cogent presentation of the Commonwealth Institute’s “Quickly, Carefully, Generously” report, arguing passionately that there will be no real political reconciliation until American military forces leave. Colin Kahl presented the Center for a New American Security’s “Shaping the Iraqi Inheritance” report calling for “conditional engagement”, arguing for the need to move away from ‘Iraq centrism’ (strategic interests actually exist beyond Iraq’s borders, if you can believe it) and ‘Iraq maximalism’ (holding our policies hostage to outcomes manifestly beyond our capabilities to produce). Finally, Rend al-Rahim laid out a devastating depiction of Iraq’s current situation, and – perhaps surprisingly – offered a wholehearted endorsement of Kahl’s description of Iraq and policy recommendations.
Charles Knight spoke about the impact of the refugee crisis in Iraq: “The price we and others are paying for these blunders is not measured in blood and treasure alone – although these costs are already terribly high.” He pointed to the Task Force report, which addresses one example of the extraordinary costs of the war:
There are now millions of refugees and millions of internally displaced persons, totally nearly 15% of the Iraq population. The displacement of a proportional number of Americans would mean: 45 million forced from their homes, the equivalent of emptying out the population of America’s ten largest cities. This happened under the American watch in Iraq. It is an immense failure for an occupying power; one we still respond to in the most “care less” of ways.
I noted that only two of the four panelists, Colin Kahl and Rend al-Rahim, used the phrase “sustainable security” in regard to the future of Iraq. In all my shaky earnestness, I got up to the microphone and pointed out this fact, and then proceeded to ask the first question in Q&A session:
“My question pertains to the ongoing process of securing peace in Iraq. In the opinion of the panelists, how is the future of peace in Iraq effected by the ticking time-bomb of 4.7 million displaced Iraqis, and what are the potential future effects of this deepening crisis, such as the unmet needs of those with no access to livelihoods?”
Rend al-Rahim replied that the dire conditions in which large numbers of refugees in Syria and Jordan live could breed radicalization, and therefore make refugees prone to taking extremist positions. Colin Kahl emphasized that clear and well-enforced property rights laws for returning internally displaced persons and refugees will be very important in securing a peaceful transition to regular life once refugees are resettled, but this will be a difficult task. Kahl also suggested that the IDPs be allowed to vote in the upcoming elections.
I applaud their recognition of the huge role that vulnerable refugees will play in the future and for understanding that the reactions of the displaced will have a huge impact on the future of Iraq and therefore should be considered when discussing America’s role in the conflict.
Photo Caption: Panelists speak about the future of the U.S. military in Iraq at a forum hosted by the United States Institute of Peace
As part of EPIC’s continued interest in sustainable development in Iraq, I attended a panel discussion on Dr. Reuben Brigety’s report, Humanity as a Weapon of War at the Center for American Progress. I was delighted to hear the panelist’s views, and to hear open discourse on the topic of humanitarian efforts and roles.
Shidley, Kenya, June 2007: The U.S. Armed Forces come across a settlement of 100 families near the border of Somalia. Anticipating an influx of Somali refugees fleeing their war-torn homeland, the Pentagon sends in the Navy’s Seabees to help the settlement secure a source of clean water.
Five months of drilling, one quarter of a million dollars, and two failed wells later: U.S. Navy Seabees finally cease attempts to drill for water. The first attempt brought up brackish, undrinkable water, the second attempt never actually reached water. By then, only twenty of the settlement’s residents remained. Given that the residents were members of a nomadic tribe, it turns out that the settlement was only temporary.
“By contrast, an underground well dug by civilian humanitarian agencies typically costs around $10,000,” reports Dr. Reuben Brigety, Director of the Sustainable Security Program at the Center for American Progress, in his new report, Humanity as a Weapon of War. The report investigates the role of the US military in humanitarian actions overseas.
Attempts by the military to reach into the humanitarian sector, such as the wells in Kenya, is a prime example of the blurred role of the Armed Forces and State Department which surrounds the debate over American foreign policy. Increasingly, the military’s role in providing security goes hand in hand with development assistance.
The United States is working towards “sustainable security” as part of its long term plan for security success in countries that could potentially, or have previously, posed a threat to the United States. Security though sustainability is becoming a real part of the discourse on long-term peace building operations abroad.
“With chaos inside Somalia threatening the stability of the region and enabling the rise of extremism, using U.S. military assets to perform a humanitarian mission serves a dual purpose. It shows the face of American compassion to a skeptical population while also giving the military an eye on activity in the area. Winning ears and minds with an ear to the ground is the new American way of war.”
The Navy’s plan to drill for water in Kenya had a ring of benevolence, but in reality, resulted in utter failure. Have we witnessed a failure such as this before, and exactly what should the role of Armed Forces be in the larger context of United State’s humanitarian role overseas? Deputy Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development says that, while the USAID welcomes the logistical support of the Armed Forces and Department of Defense, the role of the Armed Forces in humanitarian actions overseas is, at most, a support role, and should remain as such.
In the article, Gustafson argues that nation-building efforts led by the Pentagon will not help the United States or Iraq. Rather, “It will more likely become a lightning rod for Iraqi and international cynicism, fuel doubts about U.S. motives, deepen rifts with our allies, infuriate the Arab World, feed terrorism and further destabilize the Middle East.”
Be it wells in Kenya, or the infrastructure of a country of 26 million [Iraq], the United States Armed Forces are not specialized in rebuilding, planning, or methods to work with local civilians to move that population towards security. Sometimes the military is the only presence in a devastated area, and the only resource available to attend to humanitarian crises, but this is a far cry from its normal function. Difficult situations can become rapidly more problematic when handled by those who are far from their designated positions.
Photo Caption: A Navy poster encouraging skilled laborers to join the Seabees as part of the war effort. Library of Congress