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Does United States Policy Know Its Tools In Iraq?

In speaking of war as an instrument of policy, Clausewitz said, "Policy knows the instrument it means to use." United States policy for Iraq, as established by the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq (November, 2005) is a nation that is "peaceful, united, stable, democratic, [italics added] and secure." (Page 3) The tools by which the United States means to achieve its policy, as laid out in the Strategy are political, security, and economic. Noticeably missing from the Strategy is the social tool, which includes culture and religion.

If we accept Clausewitz's supposition as true, then it is not self-evident in its application by the United States in Iraq. If policy knows the instrument it means to use then it appears that the United States has elected to use military means as its primary tool to establish the necessary political, security, and economic pre-conditions for democracy in Iraq. It does not seem to focus at all on the social pre-conditions for democracy. This is a problematic approach.

Much of United States efforts in Iraq from 2003-2005 have relied heavily on military occupation and counter-insurgency efforts to establish democracy. Thus far, they have produced very mixed results and it is not certain that the means being used -military- are the correct means at all. Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has touched upon this issue. In Rethinking the Challenge of Counterinsurgency Warfare: Working Notes (November, 2005), he wrote, "Democracy is the last, not the first, priority [when fighting an insurgency]. Security, effective governance and services, rule of law and limits to corruption, education, health, and employment all have a much higher priority."

The proof of this assertion is in the results. From 2004-2005 the nature of the insurgency in Iraq - an insurgency which the Bush Administration had initially been reluctant to recognize - changed. During this period the number of American troop deaths in Iraq declined by 6% and the number of American troops wounded declined by 33%. However, this is not an indicator of progress in achieving the stated goal of a democratic Iraq. At the same time American casualties were declining the Iraqi experience reflected a different reality: Total insurgent attacks increased 29%, from 72/day to 94/day; car bombs increased 108%, from 1.1/day to 2.4/day; suicide car bombs increased 209%, from .4/day to 1.1/day; suicide vest attacks increased 857%, from a total of 7 to a total of 67; and IED attacks increased 95%, from 15.4/day to 30/day. The Center for Strategic and International Studies indicates that, by one media estimate, for every United States soldier killed in Iraq at least thirteen Iraqi civilians are killed. Its conclusion is that the trends indicate "cycles in an evolving struggle, but not signs that the struggle is being lost or won...There have, as yet, been [no] decisive trends or no tipping points: simply surges and declines." These conditions hardly seem conducive to convincing the Iraqi people that democracy is working for them. (Iraq's Evolving Insurgency: The Nature of Attacks and Patterns and Cycles in the Conflict. Working Draft, Revised. Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, D.C., February 2, 2006.)

If the military and security conditions for achieving democracy in Iraq remain uncertain, the political , economic, and social conditions are even less so. In a 2003 article titled Democracy? In Iraq? (Hoover Digest, 2003, No. 3, Summer Issue) Chappell Lawson and Strom Thacker of the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, Stanford University, concluded that, while United States efforts are not completely hopeless, "Iraq is unlikely to sustain democratic institutions, even given protracted U.S. occupation." They base their conclusion on a couple of empirical studies that indicate that "Iraq has few of the success factors associated with democracy, such as a high degree of economic development and a Western cultural tradition."

Lawson and Thacker measured levels of democracy on a numerical scale during 1996-2000. Not surprisingly, Iraq under Saddam Hussein scored lowest on the scale along with other countries such as Afghanistan (under the Taliban), Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam. From their data they concluded that richer, more literate, more egalitarian, and more homogenous societies do better at establishing and sustaining democracy. Petro-states, countries with high Muslim populations, and societies with little cultural affinity for the West tend to be less democratic. Iraq would likely not become a free society on its own.

Lawson and Thacker also looked at the impact of American occupation on the likelihood of a country establishing and sustaining democracy. In the last century the United States has occupied 19 countries with the goal of reshaping their political systems. They found that in about half the cases democratic institutions lasted, but in the other half they did not. At best, American occupation seems to be only a modest and indirect influence on the future long-term development of other countries. Those countries that became democratic following American occupation already had the necessary social, economic, and political pre-conditions that made them more likely to do so, and those that did not have those indicators were unlikely to make the transition.

If United States policy is to be successful, and if democracy is to have a chance to take root and flourish in Iraq, it will be necessary for United States policy makers to accept Clausewitz's dictum above: "Policy knows the instrument it means to use." In doing so, they must focus on all the tools available -- military, political, economic, and social. Of these tools, the military option offers the lowest probability of long-term success, particularly if wielded in isolation from the other tools. Unfortunately, there are signs that the Administration does not understand Clausewitz's dictum as it is scaling back funding for the main organizations trying to build democratic institutions such as political parties and civil society groups. According to the Washington Post (April 5, 2006, Democracy In Iraq Not A Priority In U.S. Budget) agencies such as the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the International Republican Institute will see their grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development dry up at the end of April, 2006 leaving them only special funds earmarked by Congress last year. Similarly, the U.S. Institute of Peace has had its funding for Iraq democracy promotion cut by 60 percent, and the National Endowment for Democracy expects to run out of money for Iraqi programs by September, 2006.

Given the current outlook, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the future of democracy in Iraq remains uncertain.

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