Task Force Director Says U.S. Cost of Iraqi Peace Stabalization and Reconstruction at Least $20 Billion a Year

March 13, 2003

Interview
To help readers better understand the nuances of foreign policy, CFR staff writers and Consulting Editor Bernard Gwertzman conduct in-depth interviews with a wide range of international experts, as well as newsmakers.

Eric Schwartz, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who served as director of the Council-sponsored Independent Task Force on Iraq: The Day After, says that the United States has to make “a commitment of many years” to Iraq after a war and be prepared to spend at least $20 billion annually on peace stabalization and aid in Iraq. Schwartz, who served on President Clinton’s National Security Council staff, says that the United States will have to assign between 75,000 and 200,000— or more— troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

The report’s most important recommendation, he says, is that the United States make a commitment to “stay the course” in post-conflict Iraq.

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Schwartz was interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman, consulting editor for cfr.org, on March 12, 2003.

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What are the report’s major recommendations?

The first, and most significant, recommendation is that the president has to build on his recent statements in support of U.S. engagement in Iraq by making it clear to Congress, to the American people, and to the people of Iraq, that the United States will stay the course in post-conflict Iraq.

When you say “stay-the-course,” do you have any estimate on how long that might be?

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No. There is no good estimate on how long that might be. But I think the Task Force members believe clearly that it will be a commitment of many years, and that the United States should not go in and go out quickly. In terms of the magnitude of the challenge, including peace stabilization, deployment of troops, and economic reconstruction assistance, we are talking about numbers that are very high.

The Task Force estimates that the scale of American resources that will be required could amount to some $20 billion a year for several years. Now, this assumes a deployment of some 75,000 United States troops for post-conflict peace stabilization. That is really a modest estimate. Other estimates are much higher. It also assumes several billion dollars in funding for reconstruction, as well as funding, for example, for the salaries of Iraqi civil servants, many of whom will remain on the job.

Given the magnitude of the commitment, the president not only has to be more specific on how much this will require of the American people, but he also has to step up his efforts to explain his rationale for U.S. engagement, to explain why we have a critical interest in an Iraqi government which renounces terrorism, which renounces weapons of mass destruction, is not a threat to its neighbors, promotes regional security, and respects the basic rights of its people.

If the president doesn’t do this, then when the attention of American officials shifts to other crises, we are not going to be assured that we’re going to have a durable commitment to Iraq.

You said that 75,000 troops is a “modest” estimate. I have seen estimates from people like General Eric Shinseki, the Army Chief of Staff, of as high as 200,000. There are only about 10 Army divisions, and that equals almost 200,000 people. Wouldn’t that stretch U.S. forces considerably?

It’s very difficult to get a good figure for what the requirements will be. If you use, for example, the number of troops the United States had in Kosovo, then you would get totals that will bring you to several hundred thousand. If you used the number of troops the United States sent to Afghanistan or Haiti, your numbers would be much lower. We can assume a number of things which lead to relatively high estimates.

No. 1 is that the troops will have a lot of tasks, including helping to secure borders, finding weapons of mass destruction, assisting in public security in the early phases and throughout the transition, and dealing with a public security environment that will be very challenging in the aftermath of the removal of the regime. There will be a security vacuum in many parts of the country. The Iraqi regime is responsible for horrendous abuses of human rights against several aggrieved communities, including abuses such as removing people from their homes and forced migrations, so many, many people are going to want to go back to areas where they had lived.

There are all kinds of potential for internal conflict in the wake of the removal of the regime. So the requirement for public security troops will be significant. You’re right, the estimates have been between about 75,000 and over 200,000 and no one knows for sure, but we know it is going to be a very healthy number.

Why is the administration so reluctant to make any numbers public? Do they not have any estimates?

First, nobody knows exactly what the numbers are going to be. But that’s not so different from many foreign policy issues or complex crises that the United States has confronted in the past.

As a practical matter, officials have no choice but to make estimates and to request funds based on situations that are uncertain. You need the money and you have to make the request. So the question is, why aren’t they coming forward sooner rather than later? I think there might be some concern in the administration that if they start talking about very large numbers, they are going to create a great deal of apprehension on the part of the American people, and perhaps get stopped in their tracks before they get going. That’s one fear.

There is also the fear that if you put out a number and then discover that that number is wrong, it’s embarrassing. I also think administration officials are planning to come forward with a supplemental budget request and may be trying to hold their cards close to their chest until they actually make the presentation to Congress. This is a mistake, because the discussion has got to begin sooner rather than later, and they are unlikely to come forward with a supplemental request until after the conflict begins.

On Iraq’s political future, what role do you think the Iraqi exile groups should play?

The report reaches the conclusion that the Iraqi exile community could have an important role to play in a political transition process. The Task Force did not think that it would have been a good idea, however, to establish a provisional government in exile. The Task Force supported the Bush administration on that issue, although that issue was hotly debated within the Bush administration. The reason the Task Force took that position was because it felt it important that the new Iraqi leadership have legitimacy among the Iraqi people and, to a great extent, the exile leaders’ popularity and legitimacy have yet to be tested.

At the same time, the Task Force believed the process of political transition in Iraq has got to be one in which the Iraqis themselves are major stakeholders, that Iraqis need to continue to play key roles in the administration of public institutions, subject to adequate vetting, and that basic services in Iraq continue. It will require thousands of Iraqi civil servants to continue to do their jobs, and every effort has to be made to quickly establish consultative mechanisms on political issues, constitutional issues, on legal issues so that the period of transitional governance by non-Iraqis is as short as possible. Those consultative efforts have to involve indigenous Iraqis, as well as returning Iraqis.

After the war ends, will an American general become a Supreme Commander, like General Douglas MacArthur was in Japan in 1945?

In the first instance, there will be an American military commander. The administration intends also to have a civilian administrator, who at least initially, will operate under the authority of what is known as the “Combatant Commander,” General Tommy Franks. Where the process goes from there is not completely defined. I think the Task Force position is that as quickly as possible, more and more responsibility should either be left in Iraqi hands, or put in Iraqi hands. This is to avoid fostering the perception that Americans seek to control Iraq’s future.

Does the Task Force favor retaining Iraq’s current boundaries?

The Task Force supports the territorial integrity of Iraq. At the same time, the Task Force encourages a geographically based federal system of government in Iraq. In particular, in northern Iraq, the Kurdish population has operated outside of regime control for over a decade. And while decisions on Iraq’s constitutional structure should be made by Iraqis, the Task Force believes that a solution short of a federal system would risk conflict in a future Iraq and believes this is the perspective U.S. officials should adopt in their discussions not only with Iraqis but with their neighbors. I also should mention that President Bush seemed to suggest support for an Iraqi federation in his most recent news conference, although he was not very specific to what he was referring.

The Task Force is also recommending that the administration should strongly consider encouraging a security forum with states in the region. The forum would address confidence-building measures and related issues such as external security guarantees and non-proliferation of weapons. This is an important recommendation because Iran has made clear that it will pursue its interests in Iraq, and Turkey has also made that clear. As a former U.S. ambassador, James Dobbins, one of our Task Force members, said during a press conference, a government that has experienced conflict will not be able to succeed in a post-conflict environment if its neighbors are determined to pull it apart. So, this regional security forum idea is an important one.

Any indications that the Iranians or Turks are interested in this?

I’m just not sure.

Before start of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the United States had received pledges of $50 billion from allied states. As far as I know, no one has pledged anything right now, or maybe I am wrong.

No, you’re not wrong. I wish you were wrong. But you’re not.

How important is it to get Security Council backing? We’re perhaps a week to 10 days away from a likely war.

The Task Force, because it took no position on the issue of going to war on Iraq, didn’t get into the issue of Security Council endorsement of the use of force. Having said that, however, it is very fair to point out that the way we go into Iraq will certainly influence greatly the nature of the post-conflict challenges.

There is no question in my mind that the United States would have a much easier time in obtaining the support of international organizations in a post-conflict environment if the conflict took place with Security Council endorsement. Nonetheless, I also think it is fair to say that the Task Force believes that whether or not we get Security Council endorsement, if war takes place, the effort to get international organizations and other governments is one very much worth making and it is one on which we could still achieve success. The discord now taking place at the United Nations doesn’t preclude serious efforts to get others involved.

I gather U.N. specialized agencies will be active.

They will be active anyway. There are other incentives for others to come to the table even without Security Council authorization. For one thing, much of what goes on in Iraq is governed by the Security Council, in particular the oil-for-food program. The oil-for-food program essentially governs Iraqi oil.

That will continue?

That will continue, but will have to be modified based on circumstances on the ground, and such modifications will have to go through the Security Council. In addition, humanitarian agencies will continue to operate, and there is every reason for the United States to try to give as much responsibility to these organizations as possible. Finally, whether or not the United States takes responsibility for security and civil administration, as we expect the United States to do, the United States will still have a very strong interest in encouraging United Nations responsibilities in the whole transition process.

If the United Nations is involved deeply in that process, the establishment of “a new Iraq” will have much more legitimacy than if it is seen as a U.S. creation. Giving the United Nations responsibility doesn’t mean foregoing U.S. influence. The Bonn conference on Afghanistan in 2001 was a United Nations-sponsored affair, but the United States was fully able to protect its interests in that process.

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