Two former national security advisers and a top Marine general said yesterday the United States should focus as much effort on nation-building as on war-fighting if it is to prevail against future threats.
Brent Scowcroft and Samuel R. Berger said that the Pentagon, State Department and National Security Council would have to reorganize to meet the challenge, or risk facing future Iraq-style reconstruction failures.
“Iraq has brought home to us that we still don’t know how to coordinate,” said Mr. Scowcroft, co-chairman of a Council on Foreign Relations-sponsored task force on how to improve U.S. post-conflict capabilities.
In order to avoid the inefficient operations and billions of dollars of wasted resources evident in Iraq, he said, the government should provide interagency “leadership, management and coordination across this spectrum of conflict through reconstruction.”
The ultimate goal, they said, was to change the culture of the military and create expertise on how to make the transition from combat to public security and reconstruction.
Lt. Gen. John Sattler, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq from September 2004 to March 2005, stressed in a separate appearance yesterday that members of the armed forces have the expertise needed to rebuild shattered infrastructure in places like Iraq.
“We should get into nation-building because we don’t have a choice,” he told reporters after a brief speech at the American Enterprise Institute yesterday.
Since many reserves have experience working as police officers, engineers and city planners back home, he said, they can use those skills to aid the reconstruction in Iraq.
“We can use that talent and core of knowledge to re-establish essential services,” said Gen. Sattler, who helped coordinate Marine operations during the fierce fighting in Fallujah and Najaf.
Gen. Sattler cautioned that it would be a mistake to pull troops out of Iraq before the fledgling Iraqi security forces are capable of planning and conducting operations against the nation’s insurgency.
“We are never going to win this war militarily, but we will win it by training and mentoring Iraqis and getting other Muslim countries to condemn suicide bombs and other random acts of terrorism,” he said.
The Council on Foreign Relations task force proposed that the State Department coordinator for stabilization and reconstruction be elevated to an undersecretary of state position and said the Department of Defense should establish an assistant secretary for stabilization and that the National Security Council should oversee and coordinate the two offices.
“Wars by and large do not solve problems. They just decide who gets to solve the problems,” said Mr. Scowcroft.
In addition to recommending that the Defense Department more thoroughly train troops for peacekeeping missions, the report called for increasing the State Department’s authority over postwar missions and setting up a $500 million reserve fund for the job.
The task force also recommended the speedy enactment of legislation sponsored by Sens. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, and Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, that would strengthen the State Department’s ability to conduct such operations.
Mr. Berger noted that protecting America’s national-security interests meant likely future U.S. involvement in reviving or rebuilding failed states.
“This mission is not going away, and we need to be better prepared,” he said. He added that the military was beginning to realize it would have to know “not only how to use a bayonet, but to interact with the civilian population in a post-conflict situation.”
The U.S. experience in Iraq, he said, had changed a lot of opinions. “I don’t think this administration came in believing in nation-building, but after 9/11, the president has been clear that weaknesses of states affect our national security.”