Opinion

David Rohde

The Iraq war’s most damaging legacy

David Rohde
Mar 19, 2013 14:46 UTC

American households will be blanketed this week by a torrent of coverage, commentary and regret about the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war. Liberals claim that Twitter – if it had existed – could have stopped the invasion. Conservatives argue that the links between Saddam Hussein and terrorism have, in fact, been underplayed.

The glaring lesson of the war is that American ground invasions destabilize the Middle East, instead of stabilizing it. The 100,000 Iraqis who perished, the 4,500 American soldiers killed and the $1 trillion spent should have halted what Tufts University professor Daniel W. Drezner has called the “creeping militarization of American foreign policy.” Instead, the civilian American institutions that failed us before Iraq have grown even weaker.

The State Department is the first example. Drezner correctly argues that as the Pentagon’s budget has ballooned in the post-9/11 decade, so has its influence over American foreign policy. Too many former generals, he contends, have occupied foreign policy important positions.

That trend has slowed in the second Obama administration, but the budget, planning capabilities and training programs of the State Department are still laughably small compared with those of the U.S. military. Money equals power, influence and a seat at the table in Washington. As one former national security reporter put it to me, weak civilian institutions leads to fewer potential civilian responses to crises.

In his first major speech as secretary of state, John Kerry tried to put the size of the American civilian effort in perspective. He cited a recent poll that found most Americans believe the State Department and U.S. foreign aid programs consume 25 percent of federal spending. In fact, they receive 1 percent. (The military gets roughly 20 percent.)

Clinton: International portfolio, domestic concerns

David Rohde
Jan 11, 2013 00:22 UTC

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday hosted a working dinner here for Afghan President Hamid Karzai – one of her last official meetings with a foreign head of state.

On paper, Karzai’s talks with Clinton are historic. A famed American political figure is helping negotiate the end of the longest war in U.S. history – a 12-year odyssey that has claimed 2,100 American lives and more than $600 billion in treasure.

But Karzai’s visit is being greeted with a yawn. There has been more media coverage of Clinton’s exhaustive travel, physical appearance and political prospects in recent days than her wartime diplomacy.

An American intervention gone partly right

David Rohde
Apr 27, 2012 12:27 UTC

SARAJEVO – Seventeen years and $17 billion later, Bosnia is at peace today, but it is stillborn.

After an international intervention nearly two decades long, Bosnia offers lessons for American officials as they wrestle with continuing violence in Syria, volatile post-Arab Spring transitions and leaving behind a relatively stable Afghanistan. Stopping the killing here proved easier than expected. But halting corruption, sparking economic growth and curbing poisonous local political dynamics has proved vastly more difficult.

Today, the economy is stalled, with half of business activity generated by state-owned companies and unemployment hovering at 25 percent. The country is divided between a Serb entity whose leader talks openly of secession and a Muslim-Croat federation with worrying rifts of its own. And corruption is endemic among senior government officials on all sides.

Talk to the Taliban

David Rohde
Jan 12, 2012 22:28 UTC

WASHINGTON — As American officials scramble to contain the fallout from an appalling video showing Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters, news that the Obama administration is carrying out secret negotiations with the Taliban has barely registered on the American political landscape. The lack of interest in the talks – and public outrage at the video – reflects how little Americans apparently care about the conflict, despite its staggering human and fiscal cost.

Since 2001, the war in Afghanistan has killed at least 8,000 Afghan civilians, 5,500 Afghan police and soldiers, 1,800 American soldiers and 900 soldiers from other nations.

Thousands of Taliban fighters have died as well, according to American military estimates, but no reliable figure exists. While suffering heavy casualties in set-piece battles, the Taliban have excelled at suicide attacks, roadside bombs and propaganda that portrays American forces as abusive occupiers. The video showing Marines urinating on Taliban corpses – a hugely offensive act to Muslims and a potential war crime – will only reinforce that image.

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