09 March 2004
Council on Foreign Relations Assesses Iraq One Year after Invasion
Council task force says success in Iraq is imperative
By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The United States must be prepared to stay the course in the reconstruction of Iraq, according to a Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) task force studying the developments in Iraq over the past year.
The task force, which includes numerous scholars, former ambassadors and former cabinet officials, presented its findings at a March 9 briefing in Washington.
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger dismissed discussion about whether the United States should have gone to war.
"We are where we are and we must make this operation a success. The future image of the United States in the Middle East and throughout the larger world depends upon a success on our part. We must stay the course," he said.
He added that candidates should resist the temptation to politicize the United States' commitment to the reconstruction process in this year's electoral season. "In this election year, politics must not jeopardize U.S. staying power in Iraq," he said.
He called on all political leaders and candidates to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to engagement in Iraq.
The primary concern raised by the task force was the persistent lack of security in Iraq.
"[Security] is essential for achievement of all of the coalition's goals in Iraq," Schlesinger said. "After almost a year of intense efforts, including the ongoing deployment within Iraq of nearly 150,000 coalition troops, a stable and secure environment remains elusive."
"[T]he coalition to date has failed to establish a secure environment, without which many other accomplishments are not likely to endure," said Director of the Rand Corporation Center for International Security and Defense Policy James Dobbins.
With this in mind, the task force urged administration and coalition officials to exercise caution in undertaking troop withdrawals.
"We call for a review of intended U.S. troop reductions from Iraqi cities to see to it that those forces are not withdrawn until such time as Iraqi security forces can pick up the burden of protecting their fellow citizens from these terror attacks," Schlesinger said.
He recommended that troop withdrawals be linked to clear, measurable criteria regarding domestic security.
Task force members noted that previous talk of reducing the number of U.S. troops has generated anxiety within Iraq that the United States might lack commitment to ensuring a secure environment.
They also mentioned public opinion surveys that indicate a widespread desire among Iraqis to see coalition forces remain present after the transfer of political sovereignty.
In addition to calls for continued partnering with Iraqi forces and increased resources for training Iraqi recruits, the task force urged U.S. and coalition officials to seek broader international involvement in the security efforts. In particular, they suggested broader roles for the United Nations and NATO.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering highlighted the importance of developing better coordination between U.S. departments and agencies in order to ensure a smooth transition from an administrative role to a foreign embassy role.
"We urge that the administration seek to unify the assistance efforts between the departments of Defense and State and USAID, all of which have overlapping mandates," Pickering said. He suggested that a coordinator be appointed to oversee this effort.
He went on to note that as the U.S. role moves from the multinational framework of the CPA to an embassy, it will be necessary to seek greater involvement from the United Nations in the political transition process.
"We believe the U.N. should play a leading role in managing this process to help ensure its acceptance by the Iraqi people," he said.
He suggested that the administration seek a new U.N. Security Council resolution to provide a framework for U.N. involvement in the political transition process as well as to outline the role of international security forces in Iraq.
"We recommend also that the U.N. endorse ... the transitional authority as well as the process that will lead up to the adoption of a constitution and elections," he said. "Such a resolution could also address ... the continuing security role that will be played by coalition security forces in Iraq after June 30, 2004."
In response to questions from the audience, members of the task force indicated that alternative approaches, such as disengagement, or increased flexibility in dates, such as the June 30 deadline, were not considered in their report. Members of the panel said that such measures could undermine U.S. credibility in the reconstruction project.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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