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Iraq: Post War Reconstruction
With Michèle Flournoy
Center for Strategic & International Studies

Tuesday, Mar. 4, 2003; 3 p.m. ET

A recent report, by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Association of the U.S. Army, highlights the challenges that the U.S. faces in effectively helping countries rebuild themselves in post-conflict reconstruction. The report points out inadequacies in the current process and stresses the importance of humanitarian and global security. Michèle Flournoy, senior adviser of the CSIS International Security Program, stresses the importance of establishing the coordination of the U.S. government with the "broader international community to respond to events as they unfold on the ground. These mechanisms are not yet in place, leaving key U.S. agencies and international partners out of the loop in the preparations for winning the peace." Report: Establish Standing U.S. Capabilities for Post-Conflict Reconstruction (PDF File)

Join Michele Flournoy, CSIS senior advisor and former principal deputy assistant for the Dept. of Defense, online Tuesday, Mar. 4 at 3 p.m. ET, discusses post conflict reconstruction of Iraq.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Michele Flournoy: Good afternoon to all. I am happy to be here to chat with you about this important topic. Let me start by sharing some initial thoughts with you about post-conflict reconstruction in Iraq:
· The United States should be crystal clear about its objectives in Iraq:
o Eliminate Iraq’s WMD capability
o Remove Saddam Hussein’s regime from power
o Uphold the territorial integrity of Iraq
o Promote a new government that is based on democratic principles, responsive to the needs of the Iraqi people, respects fundamental human rights, and embraces free-market economics

· Winning the peace will likely be more difficult than winning the war. Several challenges will need to be addressed, for example:
o Security: maintaining public order/policing post-conflict, parole and retraining of Iraqi Regular Army, demilitarization and elimination of Republican Guards and Special Republican Guards, dismantlement of Internal Security Apparatus, parole and retraining of Iraqi police, securing and eliminating WMD, protecting oil and other critical infrastructure, safeguarding Iraq’s territorial integrity, etc.
o Governance: “de-Baathification” of state and local institutions, redesign of governing structures, engaging respected Iraqis in decision-making, recruitment and training of civil administrators, implementation of a national dialogue to engage Iraqi population in determining their government’s future, elections, etc.
o Justice: review/reform of Iraqi Constitution and legal codes, reform of police, courts, and penal system, including vetting, retraining of personnel, establishment of war crimes tribunals, etc.
o Social and economic well-being: emergency humanitarian assistance, stemming refugee flows, public health (water, waste mgt, medical, etc.), shelter, education, social safety net, economic development, oil production, critical infrastructure, markets and trade, etc.

· The President needs to be more open with American people about costs and risks. U.S. must make this commitment to nation building with eyes wide open
o Will be a major undertaking involving hundreds of thousands of Americans, hundreds of billions of dollars, and years (if not a decade or more) of effort
o Risks, e.g.,
§ May increase anti-American sentiment and terrorist attacks
§ May result in significant American casualties
§ May result in significant civilian casualties (“collateral damage”)
§ May cause a spike in oil prices, with damaging effects on the American economy
§ Etc.

· Given the stakes, United States must stay the course in helping Iraq to rebuild; our exit strategy should be based on achieving our objectives not on a predetermined timeline
o Pressures will build for us to exit early: Arab leaders will want U.S. to exit sooner rather than later; pressures to redeploy U.S. military to other missions will build over time; mounting costs of operation (both human and financial) may decrease domestic political support; Presidential campaign may create pressures to reduce risk of any further American losses
o But downsides of not “walking the walk” of nation building this time would be even greater -- incalculable damage to U.S. credibility in the region and globally.

· Administration should be doing everything possible to allay concerns about American intentions in the region, e.g.
o Take serious steps to restart Middle East peace process
o Involve Iraqis in decision-making of reconstruction effort
o Transition key functions back to Iraqi people/institutions as quickly as can be done effectively to counter charges of U.S. imperialism
o Step up consultations with allies and partners in the region
o Launch a major public diplomacy campaign in the region

· To be successful, the Administration will need to make a concerted effort to build a wider coalition to win the peace
o U.S. cannot and should not rebuild Iraq alone.
o Will require substantial U.S. commitment, but also substantial burdensharing by the international community
§ Iraqi oil revenues can help pay for some aspects of reconstruction (e.g. repair of oil infrastructure) but will fall far short of what will be necessary
o Other countries will want to participate in post-conflict reconstruction in order to shape the future of Iraq
o Must make a concerted effort to reach out to engage those who did not participate in the war to participate in winning the peace

Torrance, Calif.: If there is an invasion of (an victory over) Iraq, what is your estimate of the time and total cost of rebuilding?

Michele Flournoy: It's impossible to give an exact estimate until events unfold on the ground. But if I had to guess, I would say close to a decade of effort and hundreds of billions of dollars in cost.

Washington, D.C.: I don't have much confidence in the so-called American re-building of Iraq "post-war". I've seen Germany & Japan pointed to as great examples - and they are - but what about all the countries we've messed with in the meantime and left hanging? Afganistan still seems to be a mess and will take years to make functional again. I don't see anything that points to any kind of success, plan of action, or hear about the people who will be in charge once Saddam is gone. The last thing Iraq needs is a US puppet, or worse an American general running an 'interim government'.

Michele Flournoy: I agree that the administration has not yet made its post-conflict plans clear. They are still a work in progress and have not been shared with the American people. But I do think they are approaching this differently than Afghanistan. If Afgahanistan was approached by the administration as "nation building lite" -- letting others take a lead role in the effort and seeking to minimize the US role as much as possible, this will be the "mother of all reconstructions" with U.S. credibility on teh line and US leadership and staying power a must.

Laurel, Md.: Seeing as the government owns the oil reserves, what mechanisms will be used to distribute future oil income? Will it be primarily directed by the U.S. or through an Iraqi democratic process?

Under either scenario, given the artificial nature of Iraq's borders (drawn by colonializing powers without regard to indigenous population patterns) how will rival claims among different ethnic groups and regions be settled?

Michele Flournoy: There is some expectation that at least some of Iraq's oil revenues should be used to defray teh costs of reconstruction, but the process of who will decide how those revenues will be used has not yet been determined. In any case, much of that money should be plowed back into repairing and modernizing Iraqi oil production infrastructure. It will certainly not be enough to pay for reconstruction in its entirety (cost estimates range from 50 to 100 Billion or more).

Harrisburg, Pa.: How long after a war with Iraq should American troops remain in Iraq? Once troops leave, what are the odds of the new government collapsing and being overthrown by anti-American activists? If troops remain, how much would this encourage anti-American militancy?

Michele Flournoy: It's not clear how long American troops should stay in Iraq, but I believe our exit strategy should be driven by the achievement of our objectives, not by a preset timeline. Their presence will be absolutely critical for a couple of years to maintain a secure and stable environment while the Iraqi military and police are vetted, reorganized, retrained and redeployed. In principle, we should seek to transition security functions back to Iraqi institutions as soon as we are confident that we have capable, civilian controlled institutions that are respectful of human rights in place.

Washington, D.C.: Is there really going to be a democratic government installed, or will we establish a puppet dictatorship friendly to U.S. interests?

Michele Flournoy: It remains to be seen. But I think US interests in theregion and our credibility worldwide will be irreparably damaged if we settle for the latter. We may not be able to create a Jeffersonian demoncracy in Iraq, but we better achieve a government that is representative of the Iraqi people and responsive to their needs and aspirations.

Cumberland, Md.: Democracy in countries can often turn out very badly and negative forces can sieze control.Don't you think that "rushing" towards democracy is the wrong approach to take in an totalitarian state like Iraq?

Michele Flournoy: I agree that, done right, democracy building requires time to put the precursors -- like civil society, respect for minority views, etc -- in place. That's why the timeline for this is likely to be longer than people expect. Else we risk an outcome like Algeria, where anti-democratic forces came to power by an ostensibly democratic process.

Bowie, Md.: This is more of a war question than a rebuilding question, but it really, really bothers me...

What happens if, in the course of pursuing the war, Saddam Hussein is ousted from power by someone else who is not pro-American, but is willing to get rid of WMD as a condition of US withdrawal. Say, a regime similar to current Iran or Saudi Arabia. Without Saddam Hussein to serve as a unifying foe, would our mission lose having an objective? Would an anti-US, but not WMD-dangerous regime be acceptable to the Bush Administration, or would we continue to press for victory, and if so, would it be able to justify that our actions are not motivated by oil or de-Muslimification?

Michele Flournoy: This scenario could well happen and it would pose some real challenges for us. That's why we have to be so clear about our objcetives up front -- is it just about WMD or about putting a more representative government in place? However we answer the question, this turn of events could definitely drive wedges into the coalition.

Washington, D.C.: I've read that once Hussein is ousted, the US will place an American civilian as interim president of Iraq. First of all, is that a true statement? Secondly, can you explain why that's a good idea?

Michele Flournoy: U.S. plans call for naming an American civilian (actually a retired General) as an interim administrator to lead the reconstruction effort. While someone does have to be in charge, I think that it will be in everyone's interest to engage respected Iraqis in the decision-making circles of the reconstruction effort if we ultimately want to win the trust and buy in of the Iraqi people, avoid charges of American imperialism, and ensure that the solutions we create are actually sustainable after we leave.

Cumberland, Md.: Would it be wise and advisable to have something like the Organization of Arab states participate in the reconstruction of Iraq, or would that just lead to more chaos?

Michele Flournoy: I think it is imperative that the US build a much wider coalition for winning the peace -- one that goes beyond the one we will use to fight the war. The US cannot and should not try to rebuild Iraq on its own. We need the international community to provide resources and expertise to pull this off. Plus other countries will likely see it as in their own interests to participate in order to shape Iraq's future.

Arlington, Va.: Do you think the president and his advisors are underestimating (misunderestimating?) how difficult it will be to capture and/or kill Saddam Hussein? We haven't found bin Laden, we had trouble finding Noriega in Panama. Hussein seems to have created a much more imposing set of places to hide. We could very well end up having to level the entire country and even then we won't be sure we've gotten him. All this talk about how easy the war will be makes me very uneasy. And the fact that the administration seems to have barely contemplated what is going to happen after the war is even more scary. The only thing we hear about is the rosy best case scenario. No one in the White House talks about all the potential things that could go wrong in the aftermath. Why are they not being honest with us and the rest of the world?

Michele Flournoy: The manhunt for Saddam could well prove difficult, as others have in the past, especially since he is known to have a cadre of "doubles" -- we may not know if we've really gotten him even if we think we have! Much will depend on whether the Iraqi people view us as an occupation force(in which case they won't likely be providing us with the intelligence we need to get Saddam) or as a liberation force ( in which case Saddam may not have many places to hide).

I don't think that US planning has given enough weight to the things that could go wrong -- from Saddam drawing us into an urban fight to him lobbing WMD-tipped missiles against Israel in an attempt to fracture the coalition, to launching WMD or terrorist attacks against US troops in theater. The American people have not been given any real sense of the potential downside risks of this operation.

Venice, Fla.: Do you think that while the possibility of increased tension with the middle eastern countries is possible if not likely there is a chance that this may infact bring the US, Russia, and China closer together through reformed oil contracts and trade rights?

Michele Flournoy: I'm not as optimistic on this point as you are. HIstorically, Russia and China have played a more competitive game with us in the Middle East, exploiting our weaknesses whenever possible. That said, both Russia and China will likely temper their actions in Iraq based on their long-term interests, including the nature of the relationships they want with the US in the future.

Oakton, Va.: What if our idea of "democracy" turns out to be inconsistent with the Iraqi people's idea of what Islam is?

Michele Flournoy: Then we need to engage in a national dialogue process that will help define a form of representative government that is consistent with Iraqi culture, traditions, etc. There is no point in trying to export something that will simply not be sustainable. Here, the loya jurga process that has occurred in Afghanistan is actually a hopeful example.

Long Beach, Calif.: What gives George Bush the right to install a "democratic" government in Iraq? What gives the US the right to declare a free market economy in Iraq? Does that mean global corps will gain ownership of the oil fields and water sources in Iraq? Why is it bad to have the oil of Iraq be the property of the people, along with the water? There are MANY examples of "free market" rules ruining infrastructures around the world, so why repeat the process in Iraq without so much as waiting to find out what the people of Iraq want?

Michele Flournoy: I agree that the people of Iraq should be empowered to determine the political and economic systems they want to live with. But in my view, the primary cause of this war is not a democratic crusade but the belief that Saddam must be disarmed of WMD in accordance with countless UN Security Council resolutions. I agree with that fundamental objective, even though I have serious qualms about the way in which the Bush administration has gone about this.

Long Beach, Calif.: I assume that your "International" studies have pointed you to the fact that a "regime change" is illegal under int'l law as a reason to invade another country. Why would you expect the USA to become an international outlaw without even mentioning that fact?

Michele Flournoy: Again, the reason for invading Iraq is enforcement of the UN Security Council resolutions, not regime change or democracy building. But if we are going to help rebuild Iraq after the conflict, we should seek to create a more representative form of government for the Iraqi people.

Long Beach, Calif.: You mention the "territorial integrity" of Iraq, which is really an oxymoron, as Iraq was created in a Parisian drawing room in 1920 by people so unfamiliar with Iraq that they excluded Kuwait. Why should we respect such a contrivance?

If the Iraqi people choose to have a socialist country, with nationalized resources, how do you feel the United States will respond? We appear to be demanding one economic model for the entire planet. Thanks

Michele Flournoy: True, teh borders of Iraq are a post-collonial contrivance -- as are the borders of most Middle Eastern and African countries. But if we don't respect them in this case, we will open the Pandora's box of inviting every post-colonial state to renegotiate its borders. More importantly, if we allow this war to become an opportunity for otehrs in the region to make land grabs, our interests and credibility will be irreparably damaged.

As for teh future economic model of Iraq, I think we should repsect the wishea of the Iraqi people. For eample, it is quite likely that the Iraqi oil company will remain in government hands, not privatized, and I think we should respect that, even if it doesn't accord with our preferences.

Washington, D.C.: Would the "regime change" of Iraq also create an independent Kurdish state?

Michele Flournoy: US policy does not support the creation of an independent Kurdish state, so it's not something we will likely support, especially becasue it would likely trigger a very negative reaction (and probably military action) by Turkey.

Gullsgate Minn: Even the experts have no definitive answers as to how we are to accomplish blasting the beegeesus out of a country and its people--only to redesign it 'in our own image', or one that is 'sensitive' to our political and economic needs--who does have the answers here? Seems like we have a lot of limp planners trying to effect change while not knowing if such a commitment is even to be well orchestrated or followed through by this administration? And who are we anyway, to define what democracy upholds---while ours has taken a real beating with civil liberties being downsized so dangerously lately? Got to do our homework better than that if we want to become the dominant super power in order to control the world, which I assume is the point of such a war. However, we haven't succeeded in controling world opinion very well lately either; which is a sad premise on which to build a war--one that nobody wants? Yet do we back out now and lose our John Wayne stance? Do we find ourselves with little wiggle room left? Does not seem to be the best way to initiate a war?

Michele Flournoy: Let me remind you that I am neither a "US planner" nor a supporter of how this administration has handled this issue. But I would agree that they seem to have spent a lot more time planning how they hope to win the war than thinking through how they are going to win the peace. I only hope that the administration will be more skillful in building a coalition to rebuild Iraq -- one that includes Iraqis -- than it has been in bulding the coalition to go to war.

Arlington, Va.: Who decided that Iraq needed to be rebuilt? Saddam Hussein may have to go, but it's a pretty big leap to your model of American democracy in the middle east. What if the majority of Iraqis want a fundamentalist government similar to that of Iran? Or a monarchy? Then, I guess we won't allow them to decide their own Government after all.

Michele Flournoy: Once Saddam and his Ba'ath party cronies are removed from power, there will necessarily be some rebuilding required. But I agree that we should not be seeking to remake Iraq in our own image. We want to find a form of governance that is supported by the Iraqi people but also one that will contribute to the peace and stability of the region.

Alexandria, Va.: Why is the administration so focused on rebuilding Iraq and not Afghanistan? We have an opportunity in Afghanistan for just what Wolfowitz, Perle, Cheney etc. want--a country that needs our help and is ready for a new Government. We've already fought the military battle there to depose the current Government. The administration is acting as if we haven't had an opportunity to rebuild a nation since Germany or Japan, yet there is one right now with Afghanistan. Plus, it seems that Afghanistan is a lot closer to where Al Queada (sp) supporters are located (and where they're probably recruiting).

Michele Flournoy: I agree that rebuilding Afghanistan deserves much higher priority if we want to ensure that the country does not become a safe haven for terrorists a decade from now. I think this administration has been slow to understand that nation building is not just some altruistic or humanitarian gesture that we undertake, it can be central to protecting our vital interests in some cases. The administration tried to nation building on teh cheap in Afghanistan by essentially contracting the job out to other countries and coopting the warlords in the countryside. That's not a recipe for long-term success. I think we will likely have to revisit our strategy there in the not too distant future.

Washington, D.C.: How do you think the planned "shock and awe" bombing campaign will affect our efforts at rebuilding the infrastructure and winning the cooperation of the Iraqi citizens?

Michele Flournoy: While some care has been taken to try to identify critical infrastructure that should not be destroyed in the initial phases of the war, I think your second point raises a more vexing problem. UNfortuinately, Saddam has located many of his strategic assets next to hospitals, schools, etc. My worry is that we will see a great deal of collateral damage -- even from a precision strike campaign -- and that this will undermine both domestic and international support for the effort before we even get to the rebuilding stage.

Washington, DC: In re-building the government and finding the appropriate political structure, it seems we have no choice but to follow the dictates of the Iraqi people, regardless of what the Bush Administration thinks. Any structure that the Iraqi people disagree with will only lead to more conflict. Your thoughts?

Michele Flournoy: Agree. That's why creating a national dialogue process is so essential. I just haven't heard the administration say much about this yet.

Michele Flournoy: You all have asked great questions and I have enjoyed the dialogue. This country needs to be debating these issues, so I thank you for weighing in. Since it's 4pm, I am going to sign off. But thanks again for your views and the chance to have such a candid exchange.

Long Beach, Calif.: Thanks for an outstanding chat. I admire your forthright responses. Good Luck to you.

Michele Flournoy: Thanks. I appreciated the insightful and provocative questions and comments as well.

washingtonpost.com: That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

© Copyright 2002 The Washington Post Company


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