Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Past is Prologue: Abroad in Syria With the Ghosts of Iraq

In the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the short-lived Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) briefly held a mandate to lead post-war reconstruction efforts. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) under L. Paul Bremer replaced ORHA before its plans could be implemented. Au-topsies of replacing the ORHA and the consequences of the CPA’s subsequent handling of the Iraq mission abound, but they focused on the Iraq mission as a historical narrative.

 However, the United States (US) now faces a lengthening list of probable reconstruction and stabilization (R&S) missions in the near future. Rather than burying the autopsies, the contrast between ORHA’s plans and the CPA’s implementation offers instructive lessons for future R&S missions. Such a study is of paramount importance as the short list of countries likely to need R&S assistance includes Syria, Libya, Yemen, Central African Republic and South Sudan as well as, sadly, Iraq again.

Whether or not the US military is deployed to bring an end to the crises, failure to assist in R&S processes following a ceasefire is not an option. The power vacuums that follow crisis are a perfect breeding ground for extremism, transnational crime and recurrent violence, all of which have international, as well as national and regional security ramifications.This paper presents a framework that planners can use to speed the planning process and improve traction. R&S contexts require the ability to function at a high level within conditions of ambiguity, violence and chaos. Using past lessons as principles rather than fixed points on a checklist speeds implementation and guides efforts from a stronger and more flexible start-ing point. As governance reform is a core thrust within US intervention frameworks, this document argues for improving future operations through a paradigm shift away from top-down R&S interventions.

This shift changes the interveners’ focus from producing effective stable democratic government structure. Instead, operations should flexibly analyze the social, economic and political conditions that local populations aspire to, and support the design and growth of fit-for-purpose structures of governance to produce stable democra-cies, ensuring civil society involvement in decision-making and design.

The author bases this recommendation on the recognition that both failures and successes tend to show commonalities. Repeated failures tend to show a check-list mentality, and the inclination to prioritize technical fixes over building relationships and developing inclusive processes. Off-the-shelf institution-building without sufficient up-front analysis of local conflict dynamics and social schisms often leads to temporary gains at best, or abject failure at worst. Successes are often tied to adaptive structure that correct the top-down approach.

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