Thursday, February 15, 2007

Spec opinion: When Anti-War is Anti-Peace (2007)

I'm back in the Columbia Spectator today (15FEB07) with my column, When Anti-war is Anti-peace.

I have mixed feelings about it. I wrote a revised version of the article which I refined last night and today with the help of Carly Hoffman, a Spec (associate?) opinion editor. However, the Spec used a rougher edited-not-with-me version of my original submission that I didn't approve. Apparently, some miscommunication or some other decision was made somewhere and the edited-not-with-me version of my original submission was used. I was happier with the revision than the original. The upside is that the article is more timely in today's Spec given the anti-war protests on campus, and that was my original hope and intent. Admittedly, the substance of the message didn't change that much from the original submission to the unpublished revision, and I did submit it, so I can't cry foul (too loudly). You can compare for yourself. Read the edited original on the Spec website and then scroll down for my preferred yet unpublished revised version below. Tell me what you think, and enjoy.

UNPUBLISHED REVISION:

When Anti-War is Anti-Peace by Eric ****

The calls for the United States to leave Iraq are reaching a frantic crescendo, and the precedent they most often cite is how Congress ended support for South Vietnam. However, while the Vietnam precedent for withdrawing from war is widely known, less understood has been the damage to peace caused by that retreat. The traumatic Vietnam episode convinced American leaders that peace operations in "non-permissive" environments were a misguided national security strategy. As a result, the peace-building options we needed at the outset of our current conflict were unavailable.

Since 9/11, peace building has returned to our strategic thinking, and the Iraq mission has become our greatest test for peace operations in "non-permissive" environments. What are peace operations? Essentially, they are the full-spectrum processes that transform failed regions into viable states that are secure, can sustain development and integrate into the international community, and are stable and effectively governed. Peace operations also encompass the organizations—private sector, government, international, and military civil affairs—that engage in humanitarian intervention, development, and aid.

If we make the deliberate decision to abandon Iraq, then we can forget about peace building in other "non-permissive" environments. Our peace-building capability will be swept away in the political fall-out, just as it was after the Vietnam War. Leading "anti-war" Congressman John Murtha, for example, is actually very hawkish . . . about China. He just vehemently opposes peace operations, whether they are in 2003 Iraq or 1993 Somalia.

I'm not as hard on President Bush's administration for our post-war planning failures in Iraq because I understand much of it was due to the lack of pre-mission capability. After all, how do you fix a country with an absence of tools and know-how for doing it? The easy answer is that you call someone else to fix it, and that's basically how we planned for the post-war in Iraq. We've learned the hard way that there is no one else to call and we are responsible for completing the job we started.

The solution to the mess depends on whether the peace operations community, thrown into the deep end of the pool since 9/11, can struggle out from the legacy of the Vietnam War. Doing so requires a bloody, expensive learning curve. Unfortunately, too many people we mean to help and protect, as well as our own peace operators, have died as the price for learning fundamental lessons while opposed by enemies who expertly attack our weaknesses.

But, are we learning? I contend that we are. Recently, I had the privilege of attending two peace operations conferences, the first in Washington DC and the second in SIPA. I was impressed by the dedication of both military and civilians to win the war by building peace and struck by the degree to which the Vietnam War had undermined the ability of peace agencies to handle the "operations other than war" that are center-stage in the War on Terror. Nonetheless, I was buoyed by the candid admissions of failure and the progress that has been made toward reforming everything from personnel to doctrine to institutional cultures. Participants spoke about the General Petraeus-led troop surge, with its accompanying strategic shifts, as a necessary re-orientation for the peace process in Iraq. It was hammered home – mostly by civilian peace operators humbled in Iraq - that in "non-permissive" environments, the military must be the main agent of peace. As a senior USAID representative stated, "if you [the military] expect a follow-on civilian force to replace you, don't. It's not coming."

My final impression was more emotional. My heart broke as I listened to the lessons learned by peace operators and their hopes for the future while knowing that outside, the "anti-war" movement was tearing down their mission. I especially was moved by the desire of the military officers to secure a better future for the Iraqi people - all the military participants had served in Iraq and expected to return. During the Washington conference, I studied the reactions of two Iraqi embassy liaisons while they listened intently to Americans taking personal responsibility for the fate of Iraq. I wondered how they reconciled the peace operators with the "anti-war" activists who accuse coalition forces of "[refusing] to even validate the lives of Iraqis." At the end of the Columbia conference, a United Nations representative asked whether the American commitment to peace operations would outlast a "regime change" in the next presidential election. Her fear was a massive, and most likely untenable, shift of responsibility to the UN in Iraq should the United States abandon our peace operations there.

Retreat from Iraq won't end the American commitment to peace around the world. However, our success or failure in Iraq sets the benchmark for intervention anywhere, such as Darfur, defined by violent opposition. Today, I am afraid the rising tide of the "anti-war" movement will destroy our capability to build peace, gained through so great a sacrifice, in the places of the world that need our help the most.

The author is a graduate of the school of General Studies, major in political science, and is the co-founder of Students United for America.

ADD: Also see my 2002 Spec article, Weighing in on Iraq, the sources and commentary at An irresponsible exit from Iraq, and the explanation why upholding the Iraq intervention is vital to reviving American leadership of the free world (US-led liberal world order).

Eric

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