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The Collective
Thursday, September 6, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Last week, I noted the rather problematic news that a report was coming that the Iraqi police force was such a mess, that the only option was to start over. Yesterday, the report in question was published, and the situation is, indeed, quite dire. WaPo’s write-up on the report starts as follows:

Iraq’s army, despite measurable progress, will be unable to take over internal security from U.S. forces in the next 12 to 18 months and “cannot yet meaningfully contribute to denying terrorists safe haven,” according to a report on the Iraqi security forces published today.

The report, prepared by a commission of retired senior U.S. military officers, describes the 25,000-member Iraqi national police force and the Interior Ministry, which controls it, as riddled with sectarianism and corruption. The ministry, it says, is “dysfunctional” and is “a ministry in name only.” The commission recommended that the national police force be disbanded.

The basic upshot is that whatever security exists in Iraq is being provided by the US and, more importantly, the other way there is going to be any security in Iraq for the next year or so is if the US provides it.

James Joyner has a lengthy post on the report and some of the Blogosphere’s reaction to it. In that post he notes:

the harshness of the assessment of the police forces, especially, is a sharp counterpoint to the happy talk about how the Surge is well on its way to fixing the security situation and “all” that remains is political reconciliation.

Indeed.

Further, that statement makes me think about the ongoing incorrect analysis of the Iraq situation as being two sides of a coin: security (linked primarily to the surge) and the political (which, btw, I am not accusing James of doing, but his comment sparked the following set of thoughts).

The thing is, properly construed the ability of the Iraqi state to field an operative police force and military is very much part of the “political” side of the equation. The problem is that most people don’t think of it like that, thinking that it is part of the “security” side of the overly-simplified (and fuzzy) equation that is presented to the public in regards to Iraq.

The “political” problems in Iraq are not just about oil revenue sharing laws, whether a better PM can be selected, or if the sides would just do a better job of talking with one another. The problem in Iraq right now (and for the foreseeable future) is that there is no central state that can actually govern (i.e., make rules and enforce them).

This assessment has multiple components, but let’s focus on the police/military issue. As Max Weber famously observed, the fundamental definition of the state is the “monopoly over the legitimate use of force in a given territory.” Now, this may sounds harsh and overly focused on force, or it may sound too esoteric to make practical sense, but let’s think about it: all systems of rules requires some ability for those rules to be enforced. Rules sans enforcement are suggestions, not rules. Governing is about rules, not suggestions.

A fundamental need for a state (i.e., that entity which controls and governs the people within a given territory) is to create basic order (as Madison put it, “you must first enable the government to control the governed”) and the foundational mechanism for creating basic order is some type of security force that will a) create a basic environment in which the law-abiding can engage in economic and social interactions, and b) punish those who would disrupt that order. This is all fundamental politics.

All of this leads to a rather stark bottom line: no functional security apparatus, no functional state. As such, if the Iraqi police and military are in anywhere near as poor a shape as the report noted above suggests, then the notion that we are anywhere near a serious political settlement is nothing but fantasy.

For example: let’s say that there is an oil revenue sharing agreement made tomorrow. If there is no police force to stop groups from violating that agreement, and moreover if the signatories to that agreement have their own militias looking out for the group’s interests (not the legal elements of the agreement) can we actually say that such an agreement exists apart from being words on a piece of paper?

Dealing with these kinds of very grave problems in our public discourse over Iraq is what I was getting at earlier in the week when I wrote a long-ish post on assessing the situation in Iraq. It is impossible to have a real assessment of Iraq and what can and cannot be done if situations such as this one are ignored and countered by simplistic formulations like “but things are better in Anbar.”

To put this as simply as possible: no ability to create order, no state. No state, no political solution.

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Filed under: US Politics | |

6 Comments

  1. While American forces are present the status quo will continue - there cannot be a central government. The USA created this government, meaning that it’s legitimacy is tenuous at best. And without the occupation army the Maliki government would be immediately shown up for the farce that it is.
    American support of this government and vice-versa is one of the main reasons it cannot govern. (Strangely enough, I sometimes get the feeling that the American forces are not all that popular down in those parts - but who cares about that?)

    Although everyone knows that the exit of US troops will not solve the problems (or in any way diminsh US responsability for this horrendous, criminal disaster), I cannot help but seeing their removal as a first step towards Iraq one day being able to step out of its “made in USA” nightmare.

    BTW, I find statements like “The basic upshot is that whatever security exists in Iraq is being provided by the US and, more importantly, the other way there is going to be any security in Iraq for the next year or so is if the US provides it.” quite disturbing.

    Not only does it look like just another excuse to stay on in Iraq, but also I find it quite unsubstantiated that the US is providing any sort of security service at all. (In fact, the lack of security in Iraq is just one more American crime, and not a “mistake” or “planning error” as you seem to see it.) As an occupation army whose legitimacy is provided by its puppet government, and is in itself the source of great unrest, I find it difficult to understand how one can say that it is providing security services. More to the point, saying that an occupation army is providing security services could only ever make sense to the occupation power and its friends - and to no one else…

    Regards.

    Comment by james — Thursday, September 6, 2007 @ 11:55 am

  2. Let me be clear: I am not personally arguing for a longer stay, I am just assessing the situation as I see it.

    My point is more about assessing the situation, and especially that anyone who thinks the situation is getting better is ignoring fundamental problems on the ground.

    Indeed, I think you are missing much of my point, as you are focused primarily on the fact that you opposed the invasion and find the occupation illegitimate. I understand that, but what I am saying has nothing to do with that. At this point the situation is what it is, regardless of whether one likes it or not.

    My specific point in this post is that one cannot speak of political progress if the Iraqi state lacks a basic security apparatus. And whether one likes it or not the only group of persons who can provide any actual measure of security at the moment is the US military. One may or may not like that fact, but I am not sure how one can deny it, as it is empirically true. Now, I would agree that they lack sufficient capabilities to actually secure the country. I also agree that they are a motivating force behind much of the violence. However, it is difficult to argue that the situation will would more secure in the short term when the US military leaves. That may be the right thing to do, but it will not immediately result in more security.

    BTW, the “mistake” issue is that once the invasion happened, the administration made a number of mistakes in handling the situation. Such an observation is not meant to absolve anything, but is simply a statement of fact. Regardless of whether one supported, opposed or was ambivalent on the invasion, once it happened it is possible to assess the situation from that point. I understand your indignation over the entire situation, but once something has happened, one has to evaluate it based on what has happened, not what one wished had happened.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, September 6, 2007 @ 12:41 pm

  3. […] Steven Taylor - The Lack of an Operational Security Apparatus in Iraq and the Implications Thereof [There is an] ongoing incorrect analysis of the Iraq situation as being two sides of a coin: security (linked primarily to the surge) and the political …The … ability of the Iraqi state to field an operative police force and military is very much part of the “political” side of the equation. The problem is that most people don’t think of it like that, thinking that it is part of the “security” side of the overly-simplified (and fuzzy) equation that is presented to the public in regards to Iraq. […]

    Pingback by A Monopoly on the Use of Force? at politburo diktat 2.0 — Thursday, September 6, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

  4. Steven,

    Thank you for your continued thoughtful analysis. You have more patience than I do. Like you, I supported the war originally, but have come to distrust deeply the Bush administration. Separating fact from spin is a real challenge. The anti-war left is *almost* as bad as Bush in this regard. (Uh .. no, they are maybe half-as-bad.)

    Anyway … good job.

    Comment by The Commissar — Thursday, September 6, 2007 @ 3:56 pm

  5. Commissar:

    Thanks for the note (and the link earlier today), I very much appreciate both.

    S

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, September 6, 2007 @ 4:43 pm

  6. […] ANOTHER VITAL FACTOR IN IRAQ? It’s the lack of an operational security apparatus, argues political scientist Dr. Steven Taylor in THIS MUST READ POST. […]

    Pingback by Around The ‘Sphere Sept. 8, 2007 » The Moderate Voice — Saturday, September 8, 2007 @ 2:53 am

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