Robert Keohane writes in this morning's FT:
Sir, Though the US has formally handed over nominal sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government, the American invasion of Iraq has not attained most of the objectives sought by its proponents. Significant quantities of weapons of mass destruction have not been found. Saddam Hussein has been captured, but there is no assurance that his supporters will be excluded from future power. Politically, the best that can be hoped for is a set of pacts among influential leaders of various factions in Iraq, many of whom have armed militias to enforce their will on civilians. Democracy remains a distant dream, while civil war becomes a present reality.
Failure is painful, but we can learn from it. We should draw seven lessons from the US experience in Iraq, and remember them in the next crisis. 1. Base policy on analysis, not fixed beliefs. The president and the Pentagon believed Saddam was a threat to the US and the transition to a democratic and pro-American Iraqi government would be easy. Troop numbers could therefore be low, and few preparations had to be made for the aftermath of the anticipated military victory. 2. Always have a Plan B. The State Department prepared a much more realistic assessment of the problems that would face the US in the aftermath. Secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld not only rejected the plan, he sought to prevent anyone associated with it from being involved in postwar planning for Iraq. 3. Remember that military power is not sufficient to achieve most political objectives. The fact that the US has overwhelming military power enables us to win wars. It does not assure we will win the peace. To achieve political objectives, it is essential to be able to persuade people that our values and interests are consistent with theirs. 4. The first principle of foreign policy is to match goals with resources. About 90 per cent of available American military units are reported to be committed to Iraq. The Nato commander in Afghanistan has complained that he has too few resources to act effectively outside Kabul, the capital. The key goal of US foreign policy - to fight terrorism - has been undermined by the attack on Iraq. 5. Occupations usually generate mobilised opposition. It does not matter who the occupier is. The US in Vietnam, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Israel in the West Bank and Russia in Chechnya have had the same experience. Whatever the motivation, and despite overwhelming military power, people resist occupying forces. 6. War is dangerous for democracy. This administration has claimed virtually unlimited authority to arrest and prosecute, without normal guarantees of due process, anyone it accuses of involvement with terrorism, inside or outside the US. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty", and is especially needed in wartime. 7. Dismissing international law is detrimental to our capacity to lead. The prisoner abuse scandals were pervasive, not isolated, incidents. They were made possible by a climate of disregard for international law, which was clearly fostered by the president, vice-president and secretary of defence. Nothing has done more to discredit the US as a leader, even in the eyes of our usual friends.
More generally, we should remember how misleading, indeed deceptive, have been the claims made by the US government about Iraq over the past two years. As a free people, we need to be wary of what our government tells us, even - or especially - in time of war. It is crucial for us to support vigorous investigative journalism, even when it makes us uncomfortable.
We Americans rightly seek to extend the benefits of freedom and democracy to others, although we are often naive about how to do so. But maintaining a vigorous democracy requires continuous activity by citizens. As members of the public, we must think and talk about policy and public affairs. We should be trying to figure out for ourselves the lessons of Iraq, and we should be discussing them with families and friends. Only then will we be ready, as a free people, for the next crisis.