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Transition to Civilian-Led Operations in Iraq: This Time It’s for Real

Author: Laura A. Hall, International Affairs Fellow, 2009-2010
August 10, 2010
The Will and the Wallet


The continuing reports on the difficulties of the transition from military to civilian responsibilities in Iraq expose several key issues that remain unaddressed.  Others will write on the political situation, regional power struggles, the overall strategy, the risks of leaving (and of staying).  The management challenges, however, are less understood and appreciated.

While operations transitioned from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the U.S. Embassy in June 2004, the real transition will come when combat troops are brought home.  The transition to a “normal” Embassy presence and civilian leadership and responsibility presents challenges that bear not only on management, but can in turn affect our overall policy.  A few of these are particularly notable because they raise larger, more fundamental questions that apply beyond Iraq.

Less is More?

If the goal is to move towards a “normal” presence, it will be critical to shift from U.S.-funded reconstruction to political engagement, regional political management, and public diplomacy.  Iraq must own its development.  The planning effort should start with clear goals for a U.S.-Iraq relationship five years from now and work back.  As military and civilian planners work the “seams,” they should be very careful not to simply develop civilian plans for executing all the activities previously done by the military.

Given the size of the military presence in Iraq, it is worth asking whether the supply creates the demand.  How many of the activities are done because they can be?  The budget crunch could create a needed constraint on ambitions.  With our goals in Iraq primarily political, the comparative advantage of diplomats must be leveraged.

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