Past is Prologue

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Past is Prologue

Abroad in Syria With the Ghosts of Iraq

Authored by David Alpher

In the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the short-lived Office of Reconstruction and Humanitar-ian Assistance (ORHA) briefly held a mandate to lead post-war reconstruction efforts. The Coalition Provi-sional Authority (CPA) under L. Paul Bremer replaced ORHA before its plans could be implemented. Au-topsies of replacing the ORHA and the consequences of the CPA's subsequent handling of the Iraq mission abound, but they focused on the Iraq mission as a historical narrative. However, the United States (US) now faces a lengthening list of probable reconstruction and stabilization (R&S) missions in the near future. Rather than burying the autopsies, the contrast be-tween ORHA's plans and the CPA's implementation offers instructive lessons for future R&S missions. Such a study is of paramount importance as the short list of countries likely to need R&S assistance includes Syria, Libya, Yemen, Central African Re-public and South Sudan as well as, sadly, Iraq again. Whether or not the US military is deployed to bring an end to the crises, failure to assist in R&S processes following a ceasefire is not an option. The power vacu-ums that follow crisis are a perfect breeding ground for extremism, transnational crime and recurrent vio-lence, all of which have international, as well as na-tional and regional security ramifications.This paper presents a framework that planners can use to speed the planning process and improve trac-tion. R&S contexts require the ability to function at a high level within conditions of ambiguity, violence and chaos. Using past lessons as principles rather than fixed points on a checklist speeds implementation and guides efforts from a stronger and more flexible start-ing point. As governance reform is a core thrust within US intervention frameworks, this document argues for improving future operations through a paradigm shift away from top-down R&S interventions. This shift changes the interveners' focus from producing effec-tive stable democratic government structure. Instead, operations should flexibly analyze the social, economic and political conditions that local populations aspire to, and support the design and growth of fit-for-purpose structures of governance to produce stable democra-cies, ensuring civil society involvement in decision-making and design. The author bases this recommendation on the rec-ognition that both failures and successes tend to show commonalities. Repeated failures tend to show a check-list mentality, and the inclination to prioritize techni-cal fixes over building relationships and developing inclusive processes. Off-the-shelf institution-building without sufficient up-front analysis of local conflict dynamics and social schisms often leads to temporary gains at best, or abject failure at worst. Successes are of-ten tied to adaptive structure that correct the top-down approach.

Publication Date:
1547014113 / 9781547014118
Page Count:
Binding Type:
US Trade Paper
Trim Size:
6" x 9"
Black and White
Related Categories:
Political Science / Political Freedom & Security / International Secur

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