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peacekeeping expert Paul Diehl
Iraq is a success, Afghanistan a failure. At least that’s one developing storyline as the last combat units exit Iraq this month – even as combat deaths reach record levels, with seemingly little progress, in Afghanistan. But how we define success or failure in such operations is rarely clear, according to Paul Diehl, the Henning Larsen Professor of political science and co-author of the recent book “Evaluating Peace Operations.” The goals are often ill-defined and even at odds, says Diehl (pronounced Deel). He was interviewed by News Bureau social sciences editor Craig Chamberlain.
By the standards of peacekeeping, where has Iraq succeeded, at least recently, and where might it fail?
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have some peacekeeping elements and share some goals with traditional peace operations. In the short term, Operation Iraqi Freedom has succeeded in reducing violence (at least compared to pre-troop-surge levels), has facilitated mostly free and fair democratic elections, and established pockets where the rule of law and local governance are functional. There have also been successes in preventing instability in Iraq from spreading to neighboring countries, such as Kuwait and Turkey.
A final assessment can only be made in the long run, and there are a number of risk factors that could make Iraq resemble a "failed state" in some ways, more than it would resemble the successes of post-occupation Germany or Japan following World War II. These include continuing ethnic and religious cleavages, al-Qaida factions and independent militia groups, and problems with maintaining local security, the latter of which is a prerequisite for progress on a number of fronts.
Are the pieces in place for maintaining a stable government in Iraq? And how prepared is the Iraqi military to both defend the country and fight the continuing insurgency?
The glass is half-full or half-empty, depending on your perspective, but it is clearly not filled to the top. The Iraqi government has some of the structural components for stability, but months after the last election, different factions have been unable to form a new government and it is unclear how long such a coalition would last, were one to be formed. Furthermore, de facto Kurdish autonomy and the powerful local militias weaken the effective capacity of the central government to exercise control over the country and its natural resources.
Most importantly, the government cannot yet guarantee security in all areas, nor provide some basic services such as electricity and water on a consistent basis. Until those twin elements are in place, there won’t be the popular support to sustain the government and act effectively against insurgent forces. That 50,000 U.S. troops will remain is evidence that Iraqi forces are not yet ready to deal with security problems, although they are far ahead of comparable national forces in Afghanistan.
You open your book with the lasting image of Somalis dragging the body of a dead U.S. soldier through the streets of Mogadishu in 1993, which for many symbolized the failure of the U.S. peacekeeping mission there, especially since forces were pulled out shortly after. How does that incident and image illustrate the difficulty in judging peacekeeping success?
First, it illustrates that views of success depend on whose perspective you take: the disputants, the local population, the international community, or those countries (such as the U.S.) who provide troops. The interests of these different stakeholders are not always the same. In the Somali case, this incident was evidence of failure for the U.S., but had little or no impact on the local population.
Second, there can be differences between short- and long-term success. Decision-makers tend to emphasize the former, and achieving some stability in the near term might allow peacekeepers to be withdrawn, but it might not solve problems in the longer term. Repeated peace operations in Haiti are illustrative of this.
Third, it is hard to construct a baseline for success. The post-troop-surge environment in Iraq is certainly better than it was during 2005 and 2006, but conditions are actually worse on a number of dimensions than immediately following the U.S. invasion – thus, have U.S. efforts made things better or not?
Finally, every peace operation has multiple goals and some might be quite successful (such as delivering humanitarian assistance in Somalia) while simultaneously others could be abject failures (such as failing to strengthen local institutions).
Why does peace and stability seem so unobtainable in Afghanistan, or do you see reason for hope?
There are a number of features that have made Afghanistan virtually ungovernable for decades, if not centuries: well-armed militias, ethnic and religious fractionalization, corruption, interference from neighbors, poor transportation systems, and poverty. These conditions are not likely to change, nor are they necessarily amenable to U.S. and NATO peace efforts. The best one might hope for is the containment of Afghanistan’s instability to certain regions within its borders.
You note that there have been more than 125 peacekeeping operations over the last 60 years, U.N.-sponsored and otherwise. Are we learning anything?
Probably not as much as we should have. The U.N. and national militaries all have some kind of “lessons learned” units that are dedicated to drawing policy guidelines based on past operations. Unfortunately, these efforts tend to be driven by the desire to avoid a repeat of the most recent big failure. The lessons drawn from such failures are not necessarily the correct ones either.
One would think that the failures in Rwanda and Bosnia to stop genocide would have prompted greater action in the Congo and Darfur, but instead the international community has concluded that peace agreements and a halt to fighting must be in place before it will deploy wide-ranging peace operations.
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