United for Peace of Pierce County

Henry Adams: World News

Commentary & book review

Call to form a neo-colonial 'standing cadre'

Mark Etherington frets in Friday's Financial Times of London that "The chaos and violence of postwar Iraq has bathed the void between our aspirations and abilities in a steady and uncompromising light; and one instinctively wonders, as domestic appetite mounts in America and elsewhere for troop withdrawal from Iraq, whether the U.S.-led coalition will retain the reserves of moral courage required to finish the job."[1] -- One instinctively wonders, indeed -- at the gall of a man who writes lyrically of "moral courage" in regard to the most flagrant crime of the new century. -- Etherington sees what he calls the "strategic goals for which the conflict was launched" clearly enough to refrain from spelling them out. -- His call for "the formation of a standing cadre of deployable experts, carefully selected and vetted to handle classified information, acquainted with military and governmental procedures and capable of moving at the speed of the armed forces -- if not with the tanks, then with their fuel bowsers" is chilling. -- For a moment one wonders whether he does not realize that his role is to provide moral cover for the brutal pursuit of those "strategic goals." -- It is difficult to attribute naïveté to a former Parachute Regiment officer with a CBE awarded by the Foreign Office who survived the onslaught of Moqtada al-Sadr's Army of the Mahdi, though. -- In reviewing Etherington's new book, which is really what he is promoting in his article, not "moral courage" or a more effective neoliberal imperialism, Rupert Murdoch's reviewer in the Jul. 31 Sunday Times gushes that "Etherington represents a new and largely unheralded British expertise that, below the stormy surface of international politics, is helping reshape eastern Europe and other troubled parts of the globe and rebuilding war-torn countries from the ground upwards, utilizing military as well as political, diplomatic, economic, and social skills. These men are not diplomats hiding behind the careerism and superiority of Foreign Office sophistry, but independent, hard-minded pragmatists, used to taking personal risks to achieve results."[2] -- (Just like those jolly chaps Kermit Roosevelt led into Iran in 1953.) -- Etherington does have something of Kermit Roosevelt's eager self-confidence: "Just before his appointment by the FCO to administer a large chunk of southern Iraq, he had been taking his finals at Cambridge, for a degree in international affairs," confides Hugh McManners (himself an Oxford-educated former British special forces officer and author of The Commando Survival Guide and Ultimate Special Forces). -- The shades of Cecil Rhodes, Rudyard Kipling, and Lawrence of Arabia have been on their way back for some time now, and now here they are. -- Both Etherington's call for "a standing cadre" and McManners's review are self-advertisements for skills and services whose value they enhance by the publication of volumes like Revolt on the Tigris, complete with a cover showing military helicopters, armored personnel carriers, and fearfully lowering skies. -- As for Etherington's opening gambit about Percy Bysshe Shelley, there is no chance he "might have applauded the apparent appetite for . . . 'moral interventionism' by liberal democracies." -- Shelley, who used to write "democrat, and lover of mankind" when he signed the register of a hotel, would never have acknowledged that Bush's America is a "democracy"; he would have seen in it, rather, many resemblances to the country he described in "England in 1819": "Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know . . ." --Henry.

1.

Comment & analysis

Comment

COHERENCE IS THE FIRST NEED FOR STATE-BUILDING
By Mark Etherington

Financial Times (UK)
August 18, 2005

http://news.ft.com/cms/s/defbc084-1012-11da-bd5c-00000e2511c8.html

--Mark Etherington will answer readers' questions about Iraq online next week; send questions to: ask@ft.com

The English Romantic poet Percy Shelley was allegedly haunted by a recurrent nightmare: that history was cyclical rather than linear and that Man was hence incapable of self-betterment. What would he have made of 10 years of interventionist state-building in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, East Timor, Macedonia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq? He might have applauded the apparent appetite for what may contentiously be termed "moral interventionism" by liberal democracies, but it is less certain that he -- or anyone else -- could look upon the ad hoc procedures and unpreparedness that has characterized the civil response of the U.K. and its allies to each of these crises with any satisfaction.

The chaos and violence of postwar Iraq has bathed the void between our aspirations and abilities in a steady and uncompromising light; and one instinctively wonders, as domestic appetite mounts in America and elsewhere for troop withdrawal from Iraq, whether the U.S.-led coalition will retain the reserves of moral courage required to finish the job.

In the 1991-1995 Yugoslav war, Britain and others faced what Warren Christopher, the Clinton administration's first secretary of state, later called ". . . an intractable problem from Hell." Britain had no template for military action for humanitarian ends, save the Navy's 19th-century blockade of slaving vessels and a 1991 foray into Kurdistan. Douglas Hurd, then British foreign secretary, described the Bosnian war to me in 2003 as "a thoroughly messy business -- messy operationally, messy intellectually, messy ethically." Government uncertainty obscured the clear moral and strategic imperative to intervene and permeated Britainís early responses, one of which was to support the European Community's attempts to "monitor" the war.

But that was many years ago. A wearying succession of crises has since eroded the inviolability of states and furnished us with a great deal of experience; and if the word "monitor" betrays still the poignant naivety with which the EC and later, the European Union, among others, began this intellectual journey in 1991, there is little sign of the substantive operational review that should have accompanied it. We have re-learned Hobbes' warning about "covenants without swords," and the fact that civil-military interventions are always "messy"; but it remains the case that Britain, among others, relies almost entirely on jerry-built civil structures to meet the largely predictable challenges of post-conflict reconstruction.

One senses a damaging government perception that state-building is not a science, but rather a form of absorbing hobby. How else explain our enduring lack of intellectual rigor in tackling this most brutal and expensive of practical problems? British civil servants in departmental crisis units in Whitehall, though able, must come and go as their careers dictate. Hard-won knowledge is routinely dissipated. Civilian experts, whose mobility and niche skills make them an indispensable adjunct to state-building, are listed on a plethora of disparate departmental databases that underscore the fragmentary approach.

Of the many hundreds of British civilians who learned their trade in south-eastern Europe in the 1990s -- whether in governance, police training, elections, or human rights -- only a few were ever used in Iraq; and, overwhelmingly, the "governance teams" deployed to run that country were composed of people who had never done it before. Interventions of any kind are a formidably difficult business and impose the most ruthless of audits upon those people and plans assembled to prosecute them. War is often simpler than the political and physical reconstruction that must follow it, and failure here may risk the very strategic goals for which the conflict was launched. While it is idle to imagine that our difficulties in Iraq are due entirely to our demonstrated deficiencies, it is certain that our failure to anticipate the challenges implicit in regime change -- and our resultant inability to marshal our energies and resources from the outset -- has cost us dear: Iraq's insurgency has been made more deadly by an embedded shadow government composed of the Ba'athist and military structures we dismantled, and the support of the thousands of angry poor whom we could neither employ nor reassure. These and other voices are now discernible in the stubborn wrangle over Iraq's constitution, as the U.S. and its allies attempt to inculcate a binding national vision based on inclusive rather than cantonal precepts in political leaders who have never seen it demonstrated.

In this impassioned and occasionally intemperate debate, one sees the stirrings of the democracy we sought so assiduously to create; and, if there are risks implicit in further slippage of the drafting process, the risks of a still-born constitution are graver still.

The British government formed last year the inter-departmental Post-Conflict Reconstruction Unit (PCRU). Its task is to create the over-arching coherence that the country so evidently lacks in responding to the challenges posed by conflict and nation-building. A similar effort is taking place in the U.S., with the creation of the post of Co-ordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (OCRS) in the State Department. These are bold and praiseworthy initiatives, but they must now be driven home; for there are signs that the friction that units such as the PCRU were implicitly created to overcome -- territorialism and departmentalism among them -- now risk impeding progress.

The treatment of conflict, its causes and effects, is presently allocated piecemeal across Whitehall, an error that daily highlights the futility of attempting to divide the inherently indivisible to match departmental mandates. Conflict should be dealt with in a unitary fashion, and it is essential it is done so in close concert with a range of international partners at working level.

We need this new approach to succeed because the old one has failed us repeatedly; and this must include the formation of a standing cadre of deployable experts, carefully selected and vetted to handle classified information, acquainted with military and governmental procedures and capable of moving at the speed of the armed forces -- if not with the tanks, then with their fuel bowsers. If liberal democracies are to tackle tyranny and do so more effectively -- as I believe they must -- there can no longer be any excuse for the British predilection for "muddling through."

--The writer, author of Revolt on the Tigris: the al Sadr Uprising and the Governing of Iraq (Hurst/Cornell University Press 2005; Cambridge Studies in International Crisis), was the CPA's governorate co-ordinator in the Iraqi province of Wasit, 2003-2004.

2.

Books

POLITICS: REVOLT ON THE TIGRIS BY MARK ETHERINGTON
Reviewed by Hugh McManners

Sunday Times (London)
July 31, 2005

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2102-1709707,00.html

[Review of Revolt on the Tigris: The Al-Sadr Uprising and the Governing of Iraq by Mark Etherington (Cornell University Press, 2005), scheduled for publication on Nov. 1, 2005.]

This important, detailed, evocative, and revealing book is by a former Parachute Regiment officer who was awarded the CBE by the Foreign Office for his crucial and highly dangerous work in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion. For nine grindingly hard months, Mark Etherington was one of the Coalition Provisional Authorities' 18 "Governorate Coordinators" -- the equivalent of a colonial district commissioner -- responsible to U.S. Ambassador L. Paul Bremer for the province of Wasit, which is just south of Baghdad. Etherington ran his seemingly impossible mission of political and civilian reconstruction from the city of Al-Kut, which, in April 2004, exploded into all-out warfare. The followers of the intemperate young cleric Moqtada al-Sadr besieged and destroyed his thinly protected compound, and Etherington and his team were fortunate to escape with their lives.

Etherington represents a new and largely unheralded British expertise that, below the stormy surface of international politics, is helping reshape eastern Europe and other troubled parts of the globe and rebuilding war-torn countries from the ground upwards, utilizing military as well as political, diplomatic, economic, and social skills. These men are not diplomats hiding behind the careerism and superiority of Foreign Office sophistry, but independent, hard-minded pragmatists, used to taking personal risks to achieve results. They are also remarkably well qualified. After six years with the Paras, Etherington had worked contracts with the European Community's Monitoring Mission in Yugoslavia, and then in most of the world's other trouble spots -- Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Just before his appointment by the FCO to administer a large chunk of southern Iraq, he had been taking his finals at Cambridge, for a degree in international affairs.

To rebuild a nation and a society as complex as Iraq requires unfathomable reserves of patience, effort, high-quality personnel and money, plus a constant and sophisticated ideological debate. But despite his important and senior position, Etherington was never able to discuss any ideological aspects of Iraq with the Americans (from Bremer downwards). He writes that they regarded "their work as a brutally practical matter" with the simplistic aim, as he overheard one U.S. Air Force officer say to a Brit, "to make the world safe for their grandchildren."

But Etherington is not anti-American. He has nothing but praise for the U.S. Army, and wishes that the American government had deployed enough troops to have enabled them to continue their excellent work. He is also appreciative of the comradeship and support of the Ukrainian army division (particularly the ebullient Major General Sergey Ostrovskiy) who provided his armed peacekeeping force -- even though they abandoned him (on orders from Kiev) when the shooting started. Politicians ignorant of military reality are to blame; convenient reliance on the so-called Iraq "Rent-an-Army" scheme, of often ludicrously multinational military amalgams that could never harden into anything capable of offensive operations, was disastrous, as was the subcontracting of logistics and defense construction to one private company.

Etherington received little support from his FCO superiors. They were, he says, interested only in Britain being seen to take part, imposing inaction because of the political risk of suffering casualties. Towards the end, he was told that his contract would not be renewed following unfounded complaints about his behavior by more junior FCO civil servants. Despite an eventual apology from Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's ambassador to the United Nations in the run-up to the Iraq war, he feels that, "In all my time in Iraq nothing caused me greater strain."

Revolt on the Tigris reveals the effects of Tony Blair's complete and personal failure to impress an independent British approach to the Iraq situation upon George W. Bush. The Americans regard Iraq as a battleground for their "war on terror," whereas Europeans "have reservations about the existence of this global foe and the very existence of an 'Axis of Evil.'"

By not opposing the American decision to invade without proper plans for the reconstruction of Iraq, and then failing to insist upon sufficient troop levels for the far more difficult post-invasion phase, Blair risked hundreds of British lives. Etherington's work on the ground was obstructed and all but destroyed. The well-educated, moderate, and potentially supportive Iraqi middle classes are paying the price but, as the ending of this excellent book argues, the dangerous work by brave people such as its author may yet succeed.


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