A new Pentagon report, "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq," contains many indicators of success. But a few issues are especially important and others were ommitted.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, typically upbeat, announced the report and recent poll findings that 61 percent of Iraqis believe Iraq is headed in the right direction.
Mr. Rumsfeld, cautiously optimistic that Iraq's political transformation appears on track, understands there are many variables in the success equation. The report, released July 21, says the goal is for "Iraq to be governed by an effective and representative democratic system." To achieve this goal, the U.S. is helping draft a constitution to be decided by referendum on Oct. 15. Failure could be seen as victory for the insurgents.
The evolving constitution deals with controversial issues such as Kurdish and Shi'ite autonomy and whether Koranic law, called Shariah, will be the supreme authority on marriage, divorce and inheritance issues.
The Iraqi economy is a mixed bag. Inflation is in check and the currency stable but unemployment hovers at 28 percent. There were 27,800 new business registrations in June, and Iraq now exports 1.4 million barrels of oil daily. But electricity is a long-term problem, with demand growing faster than output.
Security is Iraq's major problem. The insurgency continues. Though the number of attacks per week is down from a year ago, casualties are up among civilians and the 171,300 Iraqi security forces. About half the proposed new police battalions are established but cannot yet conduct operations. Two-thirds of the new army battalions are only "partially capable" of carrying out missions.
Mr. Rumsfeld should be cautious with this report and avoid the tragic mistake of a predecessor, Robert McNamara. In September 1963, Mr. McNamara returned from a trip to Vietnam and told President Kennedy the major effort requiring American forces could be completed by the end of 1965. One month later, the American-installed premier was assassinated, plunging that country into disarray. America abandoned Vietnam in 1975.
Iraq may not be another Vietnam but there are similarities. Gen. Bruce Palmer, Gen William Westmoreland's deputy in Vietnam, wrote the United States was slow to recognize the nature of the conflict; failed to understand the culture and language; and was influenced by "unreliable, overly optimistic assessments of progress and by desire to look successful in the public eye."
Mr. Rumsfeld's critics suggest Gen Palmer's conclusions apply to Iraq. They argue we failed to anticipate the insurgency partly because we didn't understand Iraq's divisive culture. Our initial optimism about the Iraqi security forces and the economy has also proved unmerited.
Former Deputy Defense Secretary John Deutch, among Mr. Rumsfeld's critics, suggests our involvement in Iraq distracts attention from other "important security challenges." Mr. Deutch cautions, "We should not be lured into intervention that has as its driving purpose the replacement of despotic regimes with systems of government more like our own."
The Bush administration's National Security Strategy calls for acting against threats before "they are fully formed." Further, the NSS promises to carry out a policy that "reflects the union of our values and our national interests" which includes building the infrastructure of democracy.
"Today, we're witnessing a movement to democracy in many parts of the world, with profound consequences for international security," Mr. Rumsfeld said. Unfortunately, we've been down this path before.
The Spanish-American War ended with annexation of the Philippines on Dec 10, 1898. Annexation was quickly followed by a three-year war with the Filipino Republican Army and then a large counterinsurgency that lasted through 40 years of occupation. Today, the Philippines is a democratic country, though an insurgency continues in the southern islands and U.S. influence is no longer welcome.
Twice the U.S. tried to plant democracy in Haiti: 1915-1930 and 1994-1995. In 1915, U.S. Marines marched into Haiti and remained almost two decades. keeping the peace, training police and assisting social and economic programs. When the U.S. left, the situation collapsed. In 1994, we returned to install a stable government. The mission was turned over to United Nations forces but today the island nation is in chaos.
The frequency of U.S. international intervention has increased. From 1950 to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the U.S. Army participated in only 10 significant operations. Since 1989, however, U.S. forces have take part in more than 40 deployments that include democracy-promoting operations in Somalia, Panama, Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan and now Iraq.
Unsurprisingly, some oppose American democratic aims. It is estimated 20,000 Iraqis and foreign fighters are resisting democratization. Neighbors like Syria and Iran remain unwilling to help secure Iraq's borders from invaders, Mr. Rumsfeld said. Insurgents use Syria as a sanctuary and fresh fighters flow through the long borders with Iran, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The Pentagon's measurement of progress in Iraq doesn't indicate if Iraq will become a 40-year occupation like the Philippines, a two-time mess like Haiti or a long-term success like post-World War II Japan and Germany.
Perhaps the next report will provide insight into the likelihood of lasting democratization, the projected length of our commitment and clarify whether the neighbors are willing to cooperate. If they are not, the $64,000 question is, what are we going to do about it?
Robert Maginnis is a retired U.S. Army officer, a national security and foreign affairs analyst for television and radio networks and a senior systems analyst with BCP International Ltd. in Alexandria, Va.