John Shattuck Interview (2004): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Inching Forward: Human Rights Policy in the Clinton Administration: Conversation with John Shattuck, Chief Executive Officer, Kennedy Library Foundation, January 13, 2004, by Harry Kreisler

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Lessons of the Second Iraq War

How do you explain the success in the first instance, the Afghan War, and the failure in the second instance? One of the stories that seems to be emerging is the exclusion of all the information and ways of doing things that we had acquired in the nineties through these various interventions, some of which we undertook reluctantly. That was all pushed aside and discarded in planning for the Iraqi intervention and its aftermath.

Yes, there were many lessons of the human rights wars of the nineties, which were learned the hard way, and we've talked about that, and they were important lessons.

First, the lesson that you do need the international community behind you in order to have a legitimate authority once you've gone into a country to try to stop the human rights war. Second, you need to have a partner with whom you can work inside that country, and it doesn't, obviously, have to be a partner who has previously been in power. In fact, more often than not, you're not going to be able to work with the government in power. But you've got to have somebody with whom you can work. Third, you've got to connect the civilian nation-building exercise, which is very complicated, with bringing security very early on through the intervention, through aggressive peacekeeping, which is not the same as fighting a war, but it's keeping the peace once you go in.

All three of those lessons have not been followed in Iraq. This has been a relatively unilateral intervention with the British at our side, with vast skepticism throughout the region and the world, and others not participating. Therefore, it is perceived as illegitimate, even though it could well have been justified as a humanitarian intervention had it been done differently.

Then you've had the problems of not being able to identify an internal partner. We've put a great deal of stock in these exiles, Chalabi and others, who've been out of the country for twenty-five years, who have not been able to gather any kind of internal support. How it was we ever thought they were going to be able to go in and govern is beyond me. And then we've had this vision that we were going to transform the Middle East through some set of apocalyptic events that would follow from the intervention that occurred -- I think that was so far out of realistic balance with what was likely once we went in that it has colored the whole intervention. And then third, we've not found the very heroic American peacekeepers who are now there, who are part of the U.S. force that went in, trained to do the kind of work that needs to be done. They are heroic, and they're learning on the job. The success, the fact that the operation has moved forward, is the result of the way that the U.S. soldiers have been so heroic. The leadership of the U.S. Army has been heroic. But they weren't trained for this. This wasn't what was planned. What we now see from many news accounts is that the planning for the post-war process was completely devoid of any involvement by civilians, which was a terrible mistake, and, again, something that we should have learned from all the earlier interventions that we engaged in.

Next page: Lessons Learned

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