Reflecting on Postwar Iraq

War is fast, action-packed, made for television viewing. Even the lulls are filled with the tension and terror that action might suddenly, dangerously, resume. Never a dull moment.

Postwar is slow, and often a subtle weave of dozens of tiny, undramatic movements and moments. This is hard to fill a TV screen with and hope to hook eyeballs.

Each individual action in war is its own story, with a beginning, middle, and definable end (victory/defeat, survival/death). Postwar, single actions spatter across a crowded playing field that will take long, slow years to register even a partial score. Many of the life-and-death actions, which TV focuses on most, will have little influence on the outcome of the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq.

Ten thoughts I'd like to share after spending the month of June covering the postwar in Iraq.

1. The End: The point to the American investment in Iraq from now forward is to launch a state of Iraq that is sufficiently civil, stable, and secure to survive and prosper.

2. The Key: The last word above tells it all: "prosper." With its great oil riches, Iraq, (unlike, say, Somalia, Afghanistan, Serbia and Montenegro, Kosovo, and Bosnia-Herzegovina), has real prospects for prosperity.

Iraq is a place America wants to do large-scale, long-term future business with. Iraq also has strategic importance in two regional contexts: the Persian Gulf oil world and in the Arab political world.

Iraq can influence the price of oil and everything else, and the chances for peace or bloodshed elsewhere in the Middle East. That's why the American government, which went to war or on a peacekeeping mission in all those other places, and then tried to quietly abandon each and every one of them to fate, is deeply committed to a viable, politically acceptable future Iraq. Getting there is going to take awhile, but the potential payoff at the end will make for deep pockets and patience.

3. The Pace: Slow and slower. Slow because creating civility, stability and security in a state that has rarely enjoyed one out of those three, much less "the hat trick," in its more than 5,000 years of recorded history, is a long and difficult project. Slower because the Bush administration is undertaking this massive exercise in inventing and executing governance in the traditional Republican way: more focused on restraining expenditures than with achieving fast, widespread public services.

4. The Death of the Powell Doctrine: Overwhelming force was successfully withheld from the Iraq war, and the idea of smothering adversaries in numbers of men and weapons is not being applied to peacekeeping there, either. Former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki tried to sound the Powellian alarm that "several hundred thousand" troops would be needed to pacify postwar Iraq, but he was emphatically rebuffed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Today's force of 156,000 is having trouble simultaneously hunting down the last remnants of a now guerrilla-ized resistance force, while standing in for a still largely nonexistent national criminal justice system. American authority and credibility are being undermined by the temporary government's inability to contain a petty crime wave or prevent attacks on troops and the continuing sabotage of infrastructure. Right now, there are not enough forces on the ground to snuff out armed resistance and stave off attacks on pipelines and the power grid.

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