THE NEW American ambassador in Baghdad has given the public an unusual opportunity to gauge his success. Based on his widely lauded work as US ambassador in Kabul, the new envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, has developed a checklist for the United States when it undertakes nation-building after a conflict.
Khalilzad will face difficult tradeoffs in trying to meet his own criteria, which were listed in an article published recently in The National Interest.
The aspirations of a newly liberated society have to be understood, and the United States must align itself with these goals.
The initial US plan to decapitate the Iraqi government, removing Saddam Hussein and a relatively few of his loyalists, betrayed a profound misunderstanding of Iraqi aspirations. American understanding of Iraqi politics has improved, but sectarian tensions have increased dramatically. Khalilzad will have to find what he calls the ''the center of gravity" and stay with it. He will find many courageous Iraqis who, eager for security and freedom, reject sectarian divisions and violence.
The United States has to position itself as an ally, not a conqueror or occupier.
When decapitation proved unworkable, the United States hastily established an occupation authority in Iraq, which officially ended more than a year ago. An elected transitional government is now in place. But many Iraqis believe that the occupation continues in another guise. Khalilzad will have to step lightly to avoid arousing suspicions that the occupation continues.
Intensive political and diplomatic engagement with national leaders is needed to craft a national compact.
In the first year after liberation, American officials were deeply engaged with Iraqi leaders in developing transitional administrative law. Today, Iraqis control their own constitution-writing process with assistance from international experts. The United States is pressing hard to keep what increasingly looks like an unrealistic timetable for completing the constitution. Khalilzad will have to decide whether it is more important to meet the Aug. 15 deadline or get the new national compact right.
The United States should size its footprint to avoid unnecessary friction and overreliance on the military.
Many critics of the administration believe the United States has not had sufficient troops in Iraq to meet postwar security requirements. Would raising the Iraq troop level help or just cause greater frictions? Troop strength is not the ambassador's call, but his judgment weighs heavily. Too few troops, or too many, could encourage the insurgency and make it much harder for the Iraqi authorities to control the country.
Success in reconstituting a country's political elite depends on the emergence of people with the vision and capability to build a new and better order.
Many of the leaders who have emerged in Iraq show determination, courage, and promise, but the insurgency makes the conditions under which they operate exceedingly difficult. Most important, no one has emerged from the Sunni community with a message and a following that competes effectively with the insurgency, which actively seeks to prevent new leadership from emerging. Khalilzad's job is to find Sunnis who can lead their community in a peaceful, democratic direction and persuade them to take risks.
Effective communication is vital.
The United States has had enormous difficulty communicating its vision to Iraqis over the past two years. This is Khalilzad's toughest assignment: to convince Iraqis that the United States intends to do well by Iraq and will get out once a democratic regime is in place if that's what the Iraqi government wants. He will have to climb a mountain of public skepticism.
The United States should use a flexible, multilateral model for intervention backed by energetic and robust policies and programs.
The US-led military coalition in Iraq was never broad enough, but it has narrowed recently. The Poles, Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Italians, and Dutch are either going or gone. The UN, which managed to pull off elections in January because of Iraqi determination to vote, is helping with the constitutional process, as mandated by a Security Council resolution. Still, the United States is perilously close to going it alone in Iraq these days, and Khalilzad will have to reinvigorate a US approach that has lost steam.
If neighboring countries can help or harm the effort, the United States should engage them and shape their conduct to the extent possible.
Iraq's key neighbors continue to cause serious problems. The Syrians are pumping money and people into the Sunni insurgency. The Iranians are pushing an Islamist agenda that fortunately has little traction in Iraq.The Saudis have done little to prevent Sunni extremists from entering Iraq, apparently glad to see them leave the kingdom and blow themselves up elsewhere. Kuwait, Jordan, and even Turkey are playing more benign roles, but they are not the hard cases for the United States to influence. More military and police effort is needed to seal Iraq's borders and more diplomatic effort to gain cooperation from its neighbors.
A loosely integrated civil-military structure, policies, and programs are the best way to succeed.
Civilian/military cooperation in Iraq has been erratic: excellent in some parts of the country and disastrously bad in others. The still shaky peace that prevails in the multiethnic, oil-producing town of Kirkuk is due in part to concerted civilian-military cooperation there, especially right after liberation. Khalilzad will have his work cut out for him ensuring that integration is sufficient to block and eventually defeat the insurgency.
Success requires resources and more efficient operations.
US funding has never been lacking in Iraq, but effectiveness has been problematic. This is due largely to the insurgency, which has made it mortally dangerous for any American to do business in Iraq. Khalilzad was careful in Afghanistan to focus his own attention mainly on politics and not overpromise on physical reconstruction. In Iraq, the focus was initially on grand promises of physical and economic reconstruction, with political transition an afterthought. The new ambassador needs to reverse the priorities.
The ambassador's 10 well-framed lessons learned from Afghanistan are a road map for success in Iraq.
If he performs as well in Baghdad as he did in Kabul, Khalilzad will be a hero.
If he fails, the United States will be unable to establish a stable, democratic Iraq, with profoundly negative consequences for the Iraqis, for regional stability, and for US credibility throughout the Muslim world and beyond.
Daniel Serwer is vice president for peace and stability operations at the United States Institute of Peace, where he oversees its Iraq programs. These views are his own.