Everybody Hates Peacekeeping

But hawks hate the United Nations more.

One of the enduring mysteries of America’s occupation of Iraq is why a nation that so little relishes peacekeeping nonetheless refuses to turn the job over to the United Nations. 

The distaste for peacekeeping is common to hawks and doves. In the New York Times, David Brooks rightly denounced dovish Democrats who voted against the Bush administration’s $87 billion reconstruction plan (the “Pelosi Democrats,” who include, appallingly, presidential candidates John Kerry and John Edwards) and also those Democrats who made common cause with Republican isolationists to turn $10 billion of that money into a loan (the “Evan Bayh Democrats”). One needn’t have supported the Iraq war to recognize that the United States bears a postwar obligation not to let Iraq disintegrate into anarchy. E.J. Dionne, in what may be the first wholly unreasonable argument he has ever committed to print, suggests in the Washington Post that the Democrats’ opposition was justified by Bush’s intransigence in refusing to negotiate and by the fiscal irresponsibility of Bush’s tax cuts. In truth, if the Democrats had succeeded in blocking the $87 billion, it merely would have added a second act of gross irresponsibility to Bush’s first.

But hawks hate peacekeeping, too. That’s clear from the Pentagon’s wishful thinking, in planning the Iraq war, that Saddam and his Baath Party could be “decapitated” cleanly from an otherwise functional society. In fact, Iraq is not an otherwise functional society—not yet, anyway—and the more dovish State Department knew it. Even after our overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Pentagon insisted it no longer needed a Peacekeeping Institute at the Army War College. The institute is currently in suspended animation—according to the U.S. Army War College Web site, it ceased operations on Sept. 30—though the Army, mindful that the Iraq war has created demand for its services, is expected to announce soon that it will be reopened.

In the Nov. 6 New York Review of Books, Steven Weinberg, a Nobel Prize-winning University of Texas physicist with a sideline in military affairs, chronicles the sad decline of peacekeeping within the U.S. military:

[I]n recent years the United States Army has preferred to plan for fighting battles without worrying about how to govern conquered territory. The Army in World War II had an effective Division of Military Government. It was established in the Office of the Provost Marshall in July 1942, long before there were any captured Axis territories to govern. It was this division and the personnel whom it trained at the Charlottesville School of Military Government that made it possible for the United States later to govern Japan and parts of Germany and Italy in an orderly way, without encountering widespread looting, rioting, or guerrilla attacks. In the years after the war, responsibility for military government was relocated in the Civil Affairs branch of the Army. Support for this branch was allowed to dwindle, and Civil Affairs survived several attempts to disband it as a separate unit, until in 1987 it finally found a home in the Special Operations Command. There it had to fight off attempts to divert its remaining funds and personnel slots to Special Forces. At the end of the 1980s, an Army-commissioned report, in a chapter called “Pruning Non-Essentials,” asked the questions “Should 7,000 reservists continue to be trained to govern occupied nations? Is there a need for those trained in the administration of art, archives, and monuments to preserve the culture of occupied territories?”Civil Affairs became known as a dead end for career officers.There is now just one active-duty Civil Affairs unit, the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), headquartered at FortBragg; the remaining 95 percent of Civil Affairs personnel are reservists. In Afghanistan there are now only about two hundred Civil Affairs personnel, as compared with about 15,000 military government soldiers in the American Zone of Germany soon after the German surrender in World War II. A colonel (not in Civil Affairs) who is just back from Iraq tells me that there are about two thousand Civil Affairs officers there (not all in military government), leaving few anywhere else, and that although they are doing good work, there are not nearly enough of them.

The military would be justified in allowing its peacekeeping capability to atrophy if the United States were willing to turn that job over to the United Nations. But we aren’t—or rather, the hawks aren’t, and at the moment they have the upper hand. The doves are willing to turn Iraq over to the United Nations, the World Bank, and other international agencies, and perhaps if that were to occur, they would be more willing to foot the reconstruction bill. There’s an internal logic to the dovish position that’s lacking in the hawkish one. The hawks want to oust enemy regimes, spend minimal effort reconstructing these countries, and keep the United Nations out at all costs. Something’s got to give.