Online Extra: Iraq: "We Underestimated the Problem"

Middle East expert Anthony Cordesman says of the worsening security situation: We're now almost forced to engage in armed nation-building

The recent upsurge in violence in Iraq -- from attacks on water mains and oil pipelines to the devastating Aug. 19 suicide bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad -- is posing a serious challenge to the U.S. Should more troops be sent? Should the U.N. dispatch peacekeepers? Should the U.S. pull out?

BusinessWeek Senior Writer Rose Brady asked Anthony H. Cordesman, a prominent expert on the Middle East and national security issues at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, to comment on the worsening post-war climate. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

Q: What should be done to improve security in Iraq?


Doubling the number of Americans won't make things better. But if you can find qualified men and women with skills as military policemen, and if they're mature enough to deal with the very complex political situation, these people will be useful. We've been trying to train the Iraqis -- we've recruited a civil defense force and are attempting to create a military.

We've asked contractors to hire security personnel for many missions. We were actively seeking more international support from allies and individual countries long before this [bombing] episode.

Q: What effect will the bombing have on the peacemaking efforts?


The question is: Will the bombing serve as a political catalyst to make countries such as Turkey and Germany more willing?

It's a horrible reality that it may be easier for the U.S. to accept the [U.N.'s] value [now that] people have made this kind of sacrifice. It may be easier for the U.N. to react. And it may be easier for countries to agree to a U.N. resolution.

[It all] depends on whether people have the vision to see that nation-building in Iraq isn't a test of American power but really a test of whether we can bring stability to a critical country that has 65% of the world's oil reserves.

Q: The U.S. seems to be having serious trouble with its whole nation-building experiment in Iraq.


We're now almost forced to engage in armed nation-building. We can't [expect] nongovernmental organizations or contractors to protect themselves. That means recasting the nation-building effort.

We've begun that, but we underestimated the problem. It's fairly obvious that we [probably] can't meet goals for oil exports. Expenditures will have to be increased substantially over what we planned.

The way we were going to bring water, power, and security [can't succeed] when you deal with constant sabotage and focused looting. Our effort to reach the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people after the war -- simply in terms of the media -- was badly organized. We're beginning to see how important [communication] is in a region dominated by hostile media. Most people think this will be a messy fight through at least June of next year.

Q: Why next June?


It's really arbitrary. When you think of it, the U.S. has said almost nothing about the strength of the enemy we're dealing with: How many are foreign, how many are local Sunnis. We haven't heard a description of how broad the Baathist cadres are, or how we think the people in the deck of cards [representing top Iraqi officials that the U.S. is pursuing or has captured] relate to the direction of the guerrilla war.

What's clear is that we face not a battle to defeat terrorists -- or, for that matter, Baath or Islamic guerrillas -- but a battle to win the hearts and minds of Iraqi people. To do that we need [people] who have enough area expertise and maturity and training so they don't alienate the Iraqis, whose support we have to [gain] to win the peace.

Q: And how do we do that?


This will be the great question that the U.S. government has to keep asking itself. Who can do the job? How many [governments] outside the U.S. can and will be willing to contribute? It won't [only] be a matter of numbers. It may be more important that we're short 300 linguists [than that we're short troops].

Q: Do you think Arab countries might participate?


They have been reluctant up to this point. The attack on the U.N. may give both secular Arab governments and friendly Arab governments a reason and an excuse to provide money and troops -- if we can find the right U.N. resolution. Arab governments are becoming steadily convinced that this isn't a plot to take over an Arab country. It's [even] more important to them to have nation-building than it is to us.

Q: How much will Iraqi reconstruction cost?


What we're really talking about is development, converting a command economy that served a small elite -- most of it Sunni -- into a market economy that serves a nation. We're talking about creating a foreign investment structure; the equivalent of a uniform commercial code. We're talking about [creating] an honest banking system, honest credit, and a stable currency.

How much does [all that] that cost? It's almost unknowable. To say that Iraq could meet the needs of its people over the next five years without $50 billion-$100 billion worth of initial investment would be grossly optimistic.

We're all asking ourselves the wrong questions. We're going to find that there are some things of the highest priority -- utilities, security, minimal jobs, a stable flow of food. Beyond those things, the construction of Iraq as a modern state is going to have to take place after the U.S. and Britain are gone. It will be have to be done on Iraqi terms.

Q: How would you define success, then, for the U.S. and Britain?


Be careful about the definition. The Secretary of Defense's office did fail to anticipate the war after the war -- that nation-building would be extremely difficult. [Still,] the standard is not to turn Iraq into Indiana, but to put people on the pathway to the opportunity for self-sustained development, federalism and pluralism, human rights, and the rule of law. If we put them on that path, that's victory.

Edited by Patricia O'Connell

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