Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Novak on winning the war vs. building a nation

From Robert Novak on an aspect of this vital distinction on

WASHINGTON -- A bus full of 15 Iraqi lawyers carrying a four-page, single-spaced letter to President Bush arrived at the White House Tuesday. The mission was to request less U.S. help for building prisons and more for establishing the rule of law. There was no immediate official response, and experience of the last four years indicates nothing will be done in the future.

Aswad al-Minshidi, president of the Iraqi Bar Assn., led the delegation. The lawyers had hoped to confer with White House Counsel Fred Fielding, with perhaps a drop-in by George W. Bush. But the president was campaigning in New Albany, Ind., and the Iraqis had to be content with meeting Special Counsel Emmet Flood, a staffer well down the chain of command. He could only promise the letter pleading for overdue help would be conveyed to Fielding.

"America's rule of law effort in Iraq has focused almost entirely on police, prisons and prosecution," said the letter to Bush signed by Minshidi. In a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq where detained terrorist suspects are still in jail after being cleared by the courts, the lawyers complained about "a policeman and prosecutor's definition of what rule of law means." It means a policy limited to law enforcement.

This faulty allocation of U.S. funds is part of a broader problem in Iraq: Americans are not good at nation building. The huge embassy in Baghdad is run by Foreign Service officers on the same model as U.S. missions worldwide whose function is reporting, not managing. Similarly, legal policy in Iraq is handled by assistant U.S. attorneys who focus on arrest and detention....

As an example of how the billions of American dollars pouring into Iraq do not promote an effective legal system, the letter noted that the State Department "has failed to move on final approval" of a proposed codification of Iraqi law. "Perhaps the people in Washington do not have a sense of urgency because they live in Washington," the lawyers wrote.

The broader problem appears to be that diplomats, both in Washington and Baghdad, are not suited to be nation builders. Ryan Crocker, the highly esteemed U.S. ambassador to Iraq, is a superstar of the Foreign Service with the exalted rank of career ambassador. But he is essentially a reporter and negotiator, not a manager. So are his subordinates. His embassy is organized on the same basis as the small missions around the world, with the diplomats trained to send informative telegrams back to Washington and untangle bilateral difficulties, but not to manage large projects....


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