Remaking Iraq, Remaking the Region

When it comes to the stakes involved in today’s Iraq “withdrawal,” so far discussion has focused on the implications for the U.S. project in Iraq. But the outcome, as reflected in the security situation over the next six months, will have regional repercussions as well, because we’re currently applying variations of the same nation-building model we’ve used in Iraq around the Middle East and South Asia.

The most obvious example is Afghanistan, and there’s overlap with what we’re pressuring Pakistan to do in the FATA.

But there’s also the U.S. involvement in training Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. And as Marc Lynch makes clear in a recent post, that otherwise successful program, led by Gen. Keith Dayton and considered a linchpin in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, has had some worrying unintended consequences:

. . .It is now common to refer to the current Palestinian government as either the “Fayyad/Dayton government” or just “the Dayton government” and the Palestinian security forces as “the Dayton forces.” This is not meant as a compliment. This widespread perception partly represents a strategic communications failure on the part of Dayton’s team — and partly represents real, perhaps unresolvable, contradictions. . .

There are also real concerns about the implications of a rapidly improving security sector combined with hapless, inefficient and dilapidated civilian ministries.

The resemblance to what we’re likely to leave behind in Iraq is obvious, and reflects the fact that when you militarize the political alchemy of nation-building (i.e., COIN), you end up with a nation heavily weighted towards the security — as opposed to the civil — sector.

That seems like a curious outcome to invest so much blood and treasure to achieve, especially in a region full of already security-heavy regimes, who at least have the advantage of being known by their names in the local language. And if the Iraqi experiment doesn’t even result in a functioning state, it puts the broader attempt to remake the region along similar lines in a pretty dim light.