As we gain perspective on the initial postwar period in Iraq, a conventional wisdom has formed about key mistakes the U.S. government made in the early months of the occupation. This prescient and essential report, written several months before the war, predicted many of the challenges the United States would face in the post-war period and offers several perceptive and useful recommendations that have been ignored by the Bush administration. Read now, this report is a stunning rejoinder to those who would argue that the problems experienced in Iraq were unforeseeable.
The authors, who include two distinguished diplomats, address many of the issues that have proven problematic in Iraq, including providing adequate security, transferring power to Iraqis in a way that is seen as legitimate, and capitalizing on Iraq’s oil reserves. The report counsels against disbanding the Iraqi army--for which the Bush administration has been heavily criticized--instead proposing that the uppermost leadership be removed while maintaining intact the bulk of Iraq’s military. With respect to governing Iraq, the panel cautions against imposing a post-conflict government dominated by exiled Iraqi opposition leaders, advice ignored by the Bush administration as it fashioned a transitional consultative body--the Iraqi Governing Council--stacked with Iraqi exiles who were viewed by ordinary Iraqis as largely unrepresentative. Bolstering the production of oil has been a real challenge for the occupation, and the report offers a number of suggestions for how best to accomplish that, including allowing Iraqis to maintain control of the oil sector, spending a significant amount early in the occupation to rehabilitate Iraq’s decaying oil industry, and sharing oil profits equally among Iraqis.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty the United States has faced in Iraq has been contending with skepticism about America’s motives among Iraqis and others in the region. The panel asserts that U.S. efforts must be accompanied by a vigorous public-diplomacy campaign in the Middle East and the Muslim world to deflate criticism in the region and deny terrorists and extremists the ability to use military action to their own political advantage. The Bush administration did in fact launch a public-diplomacy campaign, but it has been largely rhetorical and half-hearted, undercutting America’s efforts to win Iraqi hearts and minds amid a bloody insurgency. It didn’t have to be this way. This report shows why.