Globalist Perspective

America in Afghanistan: Lessons from Iraq (Part II)

What lessons does the United States need to learn from Iraq so as not to waste taxpayer money in Afghanistan?

Read Part I here.

Takeaways


  • Constantly pressured by the White House and the Pentagon, the U.S. Congress was too compliant in voting for rising reconstruction appropriations.
  • The media are so busy tracking military affairs that they largely failed to report on the reconstruction mismanagement, waste, fraud and corruption.
  • As we look at the Iraq experience, it is evident that the Bush Administration from the outset failed to consider the reconstruction challenge.

It would be inaccurate to suggest that the success or failure of major reconstruction and development programs in countries that are the scenes of major violent insurgencies depend alone on the effectiveness of anti-corruption systems.

It is far more complicated than that. But public confidence in the state and in its future viability depends hugely on trust in the courts and that, in turn, depends equally hugely on public perceptions of corruption.

Where the public believes that those in power are stealing on a wholesale scale, then the prospects of developing the political environment necessary to enable effective reconstruction and development is far more difficult.

As we look at the Iraq experience, it is evident that the Bush Administration from the outset failed to consider the reconstruction challenge — and was content for too long to permit what amounted to a haphazard series of programs involving vast sums of taxpayer dollars.

Gradually, the U.S. embassy in Iraq sought to coordinate the efforts, determine priorities and demonstrate leadership. But too often it was a case of too little too late.

The blunders, one after the other, were vast and fundamental. As Hard Lessons noted, “Historically rooted conceptions of defense, diplomacy, and development shaped the content of prewar reconstruction decisions.”

“Military planners excluded post-conflict experts from early deliberations that determined the scope of U.S. policy. USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios, the highest-ranking Administration official with both development and combat experience, was not invited to NSC (National Security Council) meetings until long after the war began.”

(And, the book added that at one point, then NSC chief Condoleeza Rice said, “A lot of it (reconstruction) wasn’t handled very well… There are a lot of things, if I could go back and do them differently, I would.”)

In the view of Inspector General Bowen, there are several crucial principles for contingency relief and reconstruction operations:

  • Security is necessary for large-scale reconstruction to succeed.
  • Developing the capacity of people and systems is as important as brick and mortar reconstruction.
  • Soft programs serve as an important compliment to military operations in insecure environments.
  • Programs should be geared to indigenous priorities and needs. And…
  • Reconstruction is an extension of political strategy.

To quote Bowen: “The reconstruction experience in Iraq revealed deficiencies in how the U.S. government understands the dynamics of societies it seeks to influence through military and non-military means. War, politics and reconstruction are linked in ways that individuals within the government failed to appreciate in the opening years of the Iraq conflict.

“It war, as Clausewitz said, is an extension of politics by other means, so too is relief and reconstruction an extension of political, economic, and military strategy. In this regard, there is a distinct difference between pursuing reconstruction to catalyze long-term economic growth and deploying reconstruction to support a counterinsurgency campaign.”

As we now look at reconstruction and development in Afghanistan, we need to not only ask whether Bowen’s principles are being adopted.

We also need to ask whether there is even the fundamental recognition in the Pentagon and in the White House that reconstruction demands a first-class planning staff with meaningful authority; a strongly independent auditing and oversight staff that can monitor every important procurement contract; respect by the military for the need to publicly account for every dollar of U.S. taxpayer money spent on reconstruction and development; and, a high priority attachment by the military to provide serious security to all civilian reconstruction projects.

But, there are additional lessons that we have learned from the Iraq experience that are absolutely crucial. They rest in the domain of the U.S. Congress and the media.

The U.S. Congress has the charge to ensure substantive oversight of the Executive branch of government. However, when it came to reconstruction in Iraq, it failed to do its duty.

Constantly pressured by the White House and the Pentagon, the U.S. Congress was too compliant in voting for rising reconstruction appropriations, while not demanding the management and oversight systems that were essential. This dare not happen in Afghanistan.

In addition, the media, especially reporters based in Iraq, were for the most part — and still are — so busy tracking military affairs and the high level discourse between Iraqi political leaders and U.S. senior officials, that they have largely failed to consistently report on the reconstruction mismanagement, waste, fraud and corruption.

This is all the more concerning given that in Iraq, and quite probably in Afghanistan, it will be the success of both security and reconstruction programs that will be essential for eventual political and social stability.

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About Frank Vogl

Frank Vogl is co-founder of Transparency International and author of Waging War on Corruption: Inside the Movement Fighting the Abuse of Power. [Washington D.C., United States]

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