Back in 2005, most citizens of Ramadi, Iraq, proclaimed publicly that they preferred the rule of Saddam Hussein to that of the ineffectual Iraqi democracy backed by the United States. Living conditions in Ramadi during 2005 were horrific. Basic governmental services were non-existent; police didn’t patrol the streets; water and electric services were self-help; sewage lines were not repaired and left a foul stench in the city that became emblematic of the bigger political troubles brewing beyond plain sight.
Worse, individual physical security was nearly always in jeopardy. Citizens could just as easily be killed in their homes by errant bombs or bullets from fighting between insurgents and US forces as be killed in a public place by an Islamic extremist suicide bomber.
Iraq, once the “cradle of civilization” – and more recently a place that engendered moderate Muslims to balance education and modernity with religion – had become a wasteland of political maneuvering via repeated maniacal violence. The invasion by US forces in 2003 removed the evil tyrant Saddam Hussein and replaced him with a fledgling government that could not provide for basic services much less the hope of a brighter future.
In 2005, instead of one clear and known enemy in Saddam, the Sunni citizens of Iraq had several unclear enemies both known and unknown: the US military, Al Qaeda, the central Iraqi Government, the Shia Iraqi Army Soldiers, and even the members of the other competing tribes in adjacent neighborhoods.
Economic and political development, and specifically the transition to democracy, traditionally produces conflict as political actors vie for control over the political process, maneuver for control of resources and alliances, and sometimes simply struggle for survival. History shows us that Western democracies have sometimes struggled for decades before stabilizing. And while we don’t know yet what Iraqi democracy will look like when the dust settles, or if it will survive at all, we do know that their “transition” has been fraught with pain and peril.
Though questions remain about the intelligence failures and narrow world view that brought us to the invasion, the United States must examine how it managed post invasion Iraq, why it pushed Iraq toward democracy, and how it could have better facilitated stability and a return to normalcy in the post Saddam era.
The difficulty began because the invasion plan called for a small/light force instead of a heavy/intrusive one. Decision makers concluded from history that a small footprint of US personnel would reduce Iraqi resistance and resentment and motivate Iraqis to solve their own problems. Unfortunately, the American effort turned out to be under resourced, misdirected and too reliant on the military.
The convenient lesson to draw from the Iraq experience would be that the invasion itself was a mistake; that the US invaded the wrong country, for the wrong reasons. This would be the wrong lesson to learn. While the 2003 invasion may have been a mistake, history tells us that you don’t always get to choose your battles – sometimes they choose you – and we may find ourselves in a “post invasion Iraq” scenario again.
The lesson we should learn is that since the US attempted to establish democracy in Iraq it should have acknowledged from history that the transition to democracy would likely lead to struggle and violence and thus the requirement for greater US effort and resources. The effort and resources should have included an array of US capabilities and assets to include governmental and non-governmental agriculture, commerce, and political resources among other things. It is in the US national security interest to not only win the combat, but to win the peace. If democracy is the goal, the US must recognize the perils of democratic transition and be prepared to commit more than military resources alone to win that peace.