Had an interesting conversation with a co-worker this afternoon. He told me that Donald Rumsfeld had said that “we are not in Iraq to engage in nation-building…” Ben’s use of the quote is slightly misleading. The complete statement was, “We are not in Iraq to engage in nation-building — our mission is to help Iraqis so that they can build their own nation.” Ben’s use was only slightly misleading. Suggesting that we will help the Iraqis build their own nation is a lot like me offering to help my dad write his own computer program. My dad is a smart man but he’ll be the first to tell you he knows jack about writing computer software. This got me to looking around the web, to see what was out there on the topic of nation building. Nation-Building 101, published in the Atlantic Monthly in the January/Febraury 2004 issue hits the nail on the head.
Criticizing the current administration for the situation in Iraq is very nearly a national pastime and I have to guess it will grow in popularity as we close in on election day in November. However, all those who want to criticize the current policy on Iraq need to provide an reasonable and believable plan that takes into account the issues raised in the Atlantic Monthly article. Secondly, they will need provide a reason that we should believe the plan will actually work. In the military we believe that any plan, no matter how well devised, will only be good until boots actually hit the ground. Once boots are on the ground, it’s a crap shoot with the odds not in your favor.
I mentioned this article earlier in the month. Given the prevailing rhetoric, it is an extremely important article. Many campaigns are taking as their central point the situation Iraq. Yet, no one is offering a viable alternative plan. If not the current course, then what? And let’s be clear what the current plan is. Because the administration is doing a pathetically poor job of articulating it. The current plan is that Coalition Forces will continue to be responsible for security in Iraq until Iraqi forces are properly prepared to take over for the internal and external security of their state. It is not a date driven timetable, it is an event driven timetable. It is still a timetable.
We are very much in the business of nation building. Bosnia and Kosovo at the very least. And it looks like North Korea will be next though we might be able to pass that responsibility off on South Korea and bill it as a re-unification. I will be surprised if we don’t end up with a very different political landscape in the new year. I hope we’re careful in what we wish for.