Throwing good money after bad in Iraq

The adage that the “road to hell is paved with good intentions” applies to the U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria. While President Obama and Congress want a quick and easy solution to the crisis, the reality is that it isn’t going to be either. Unfortunately, current U.S. airstrikes and  the deployment of U.S. troops to train and advise only entrenches the crisis and it pulls us back into a hellish nightmare.

There is nothing new about  Obama’s approach to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State. U.S. counterterrorism policy of the last decade of carrying out “targeted” air or drone strikes and training and equipping local forces has been a failure in all times, in all places.

{mosads}If the U.S. metric in the Global War on Terror is whether the number of terrorist groups has diminished and whether stability has been established, U.S. policy has fallen short on both counts. The State Department’s report earlier this year documented a 43 percent increase in the number of terrorist groups globally.

The fight against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen is a prime example of this failure. Bombarding the country with drone and air strikes, while killing some key figures, has done nothing to build a stable country

Rather than evaluating and rethinking U.S. counterterrorism policy in light of mounting evidence against this approach, Congress is getting ready to authorize (in the planned NDAA vote) Obama’s requested $1.6 billion to rebuild the Iraqi Security Forces, which dissolved when threatened by Islamic State forces. This comes after the U.S. already spent $25 billion on Iraqi forces to repel such attacks and it is foolhardy to think that another $1.6 billion will stand up a force that can do much of anything.

Instead of continuing to prioritize a military-first approach to addressing a crisis that is inherently rooted in political and economic grievances, Congress and the administration should get beyond platitudes and invest in Iraq’s people by helping to build an inclusive, non-sectarian government.   

It is important to take a long view. The building of open and free democratic states that truly serve the needs of their citizens is a long-term process. It is a process of working to understand the cultural, religious, and political contexts and basing any intervention on that knowledge.

But unfortunately, the President’s FY 2015 request for U.S. civilian programs in Iraq goes in the opposite direction. It cuts USAID commitments by 69 percent from 2013 levels with a meager $22.5 million for long-term economic development, support for Iraqi civil society, and governance programs. While the Senate Appropriations Committee’s markup of the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs bill increased this number to $50 million, it remains vastly inadequate compared to the needs on the ground.

The U.S. approach in Iraq should be turned on its head. Funding commitments should prioritize long-term civilian led efforts that provide economic development aid and supports Iraqi civil society efforts to build an inclusive and democratic society – is an evidence-based approach to building peace and stability – rather than military action

Without a fundamental shift in U.S. policy, we will continue to be stuck in a fruitless cycle of throwing good money after bad in Iraq.

Sitther is the legislative secretary on peacebuilding policy for the Friends Committee on National Legislation.


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