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The Unexpected War

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Learning from past experience

photo: Tom Bullock

"I think we underestimated the security requirements," explains Dobbins, "the security gap which would emerge when the old regime collapsed."

James Dobbins headed post-war reconstruction in Kosovo, Bosnia, Haiti, and Somalia for the Clinton administration. He was sent to post-Taliban Afghanistan by President Bush.

After six nation-building operations in twelve years, Dobbins says there is a record of what works and what does not. He researched the history of American nation building, beginning with Germany and Japan, and his new book shows a key to success is measured in time, troops and money. "It's very labor intensive," explains Dobbins, "it's very resource intensive and it takes a long time."

Bosnia and Kosovo are examples of success, says Dobbins. Iraq is not.

"I think the operations where we went in very heavily from the beginning with a conscious effort to suppress resistance, suppress even the thought of resistance," says Dobbins, "we suffered no casualties at all. Bosnia and Kosovo would be examples of that."

How does Iraq stack up?

"Iraq, in terms of manpower, on a per capita basis, which is the only way to measure it, is still about a third of that we committed in the Balkans.

"I think they are going to have a difficult time maintaining security with the current level of commitment. There are obviously a number of issues besides pure manpower but pure manpower does seem to make a difference."

Manpower makes a difference in reducing American military casualties, says Dobbins, and reducing civilian casualties as well.

"We are inflicting higher levels of casualties," continues Dobbins, "not only on those who are resisting us, but also on innocent civilians...caught in the crossfire. And this works at cross purposes with the overall intent of the operation, which is to stabilize the country and to underpin a transformation of democracy."

And the American troops who had just fought a war had to change gears almost overnight.

Next: Combat Stress Reaction

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