“Hope is not a Strategy”

The title comes from remarks by Senator Hillary Clinton to General Abizaid, U.S. Commander, Central Command, Iraq, and David M. Satterfield, State Department Coordinator for Iraq, at Senate Armed Forces Committee hearings, approximately November 15, 2006, reported by taylormarsh.com, with her companion podcast.

Quote from later in the essay below:

In accepting responsibility, we would set a new goal for non-Iraqi involvement in Iraq: the stabilization of Iraq.

My  essay itself:

A personal note: I have recently begun employment as a research coordinator. One of my tasks is, bluntly, to assess the state of the research project, with the goal, of course, of successfully completing the task–in other words, achieving victory in that which the project set out to do.

The Iraq Study Group (ISG) has recently released its findings, in a free online pdf, or in a paperback book; they are a sober assessment of our endeavor to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein. It is clear from the ISG Report that “hope is not a strategy” for Iraq, and victory is an impossible illusion.
<>I thought about that last phrase “victory is an impossible illusion.” My name means “victory;” there are many names in many languages with the same meaning. Naming something or someone “victory” expresses, to me, a goal achieved, a contribution made. The victory in Iraq, for those who want one, is the capture, war crimes trials, and execution of Saddam Hussein.

<>The contribution made, however, is far less satisfying. By U.S. actions we have destabilized Iraq. There is 50% inflation, according to the ISG Report, and unemployment between 20% and 50%. Electricity, municipal water, trash collection, and gas and oil distribution generally barely function. Violence of the sort that says “Someone has to pay because my life is so miserable” afflicts the country.

<>How can our goal be victory? How can we talk about “winning?” Tell me what victory contributes to Iraq, and what we have won for the United States?

Many people will stop reading right here. Yet there is another way, if we all will think about it. The model for thinking in this way is the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe. If we did not think in Armed-Services-Committee terms, or those of Vice President Cheney, we would be able to reorient ourselves to accepting responsibility for our invasion of Iraq, and our lack of planning for the aftermath of that invasion.

In accepting responsibility, we would set a new goal for non-Iraqi involvement in Iraq: the stabilization of Iraq. The ISG Report identified five areas of severe deficiency in Iraq. These are:

National Reconciliation


Governance, which includes

1. Providing services on a sectarian basis

2. Lack of security

3. Rampant corruption

4. Inadequate capacity

(lack of a technocratic class, who have fled)

5. Weak judiciary

Economics, including inflation and unemployment

International Support

This is a long introduction to a short suggestion. It is time, I would suggest, to shift completely from “War in Iraq,” especially, but not only, from questions of whether or not we are winning the war, or whether victory can be achieved.

Let’s bring the troops home.

In conjunction with both governmental and quasi-governmental organizations in Iraq, we should, in an expensive effort to salve our national conscience, launch an international civilian effort to reconstruct Iraq, along the lines of the Marshall plan. Some parts of it are in place already; as reported by the Washington Post, there has been an small effort under the sponsorship of the U.S. military forces to reopen factories in violence-prone areas, for example.

This international effort would have as its goal the stabilization of Iraq. For that we can set numerical goals: reduction of unemployment to xx%; increase of industrial capacity of xx%, measured by xx more working factories, xx % oil-field productivity, and other measurable factors; development of a quality-of-life index that includes development of hospitals, restoration of museums, training for service industries, and schools and universities opened and reopened. Of course we need academics committed to honest reports on the data to so these analyses, and we need to make the raw data publicly available, rather than classifying it as “secret,” as the White House has been doing with other materials.

It may be paradoxical to say this when we have been trying to change Iraq through warfare for nearly four years, but the best way I have seen to effect meaningful and measurable change is to set goals in terms of measurable (social, not military) objectives.

If this is done by a powerful organization without too much internal conflict in its operation, change happens. Change happens even if the measurement of a desirable goal exists, and the goal is stated as desirable, and is quantified, but there is no real methodology as yet developed for achieving the goal.

I do not think you and I sitting down together can work out this last miracle of goals without means to achieve them; it takes, oddly enough, a fairly stable bureaucracy.

So a scary part of the ISG report is the lack of technocrats, people who know how to do things, and the beancounters who know and honestly report what has been done. One thing that appears to work well in Iraq is the Baghdad morgue, where the people working there are able to report how many dead civilians arrive at the morgue each day.

How many children go to school each day? How many hospitals are able to operate at 80% staff? How much of Kirkuk has drinkable water? How many men in Bosra have daily jobs that maintain their pre-war skills?

It would also be helpful to collect the academic sociological studies from before the war, review them, and critique them for methodological bias and potential usability.

This is not power-point, executive summary, stuff. I am talking a real, dry, reports measuring the stuff of daily life. It is not peacemaking, per se; it is social reconstruction. Historically, we have to look at the Reconstruction in the United States to see what militated against success, and at discussions of the Marshall plan in Europe after World War II. All of this against the backdrop of Middle-Eastern culture, a culture which will resist our pious Western social engineering.


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