Lessons Learned

I've seen more than one blogger note the irony of Kenneth Pollack and Daniel Bynum concluding their very pessimistic assessment of Iraq with the sentiment that "How Iraq got to this point is now an issue for historians (and perhaps for voters in 2008); what matters today is how to move forward and prepare for the tremendous risks an Iraqi civil war poses for this critical region." I seem to recall something or other about a "threatening storm" playing a role and I'll say nothing more on that.

The return of the Pollack/Bynum liberal hawk writing team does, however, remind me of a less well-known bit of Iraq-related writing they did back in 2003, "Democracy in Iraq" (PDF) published in The Washington Quarterly. They wrote the following:

Providing security is an essential task for intervening powers. Without internal security, the political process will be badly distorted if not entirely undermined, humanitarian relief becomes impossible, and economic recovery a will o' the wisp. Even in places where the transition to democracy has been rocky, such as Bosnia, a strong international presence has had great success in preserving the peace. The Australian-led effort in East Timor was even more successful -- if only because the situation was, in some ways, more challenging -- and could provide a good model for a U.S.-led effort in Iraq.

By leading a multinational force of initially at least 100,000 troops with a strong mandate to act throughout Iraq, the United States and its coalition partners will have an excellent prospect of ensuring the degree of security necessary for a successful transition to democracy. In essence, the goal for the U.S.-led peacekeeping force would be to ensure that no group or individual uses violence for political advantage. International security forces will reassure Iraq's Shi'a and Kurdish communities that repression at the hands of Iraqi Sunnis is at an end. Equally important, the presence of these foreign troops would reassure Iraqi Sunnis that the end of their monopoly on power does not mean their persecution and repression, minimizing their incentives to oppose the process. The presence of multinational troops could prevent small incidents from snowballing and thus could help create the expectation of peace within Iraq -- an instrumental factor in making peace a reality.

Note the pointed absence of a call for 300,000 or 400,000 or 500,000 troops. Rather, "at least 100,000" was said to be adequate. And if you look back at the record, you'll find that this was entirely typical of hawkish writing at the time -- the adequacy of a small force wasn't an eccentric Rumsfeldian view; it was held by almost all of the hawks, liberal or otherwise, who backed the war. The people talking about a much larger force were overwhelmingly invasion skeptics who were not so much calling for such a force than simply raising (warranted) questions about the feasibility of the mission.