On September 28th, 2006 the Honorable James F. Dobbins gave a lecture in the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies entitled, “Moral Clarity & the Middle East: Longer, Wider War, or Peace?” Former Ambassador Dobbins, a graduate of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, spoke on the necessity of international cooperation in nation building and the historical lessons to be found in previous attempts at post-war reconstruction by the United States.
Ambassador Dobbins opened the lecture with a reminder of the broad international support that the United States enjoyed for its foreign policy following both Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the American intervention against the Taliban immediately following the September 11, 2001 attacks. He contrasted this with the standing of world opinion now, what this means for the prospect of a successful Iraqi reconstruction, and the status of Afghanistan before and after the invasion of Iraq.
According to Amb. Dobbins, the initial success against the Taliban and the quick progress made towards establishing a viable democracy for Afghanistan were the combined result of an indigenous resistance movement already in place and a shared interest among Afghanistan’s neighbors in the replacement of the Taliban regime with a democratic government. He listed the contributions of the Iranian government to the reconstruction process as particularly significant; he noted that this cooperation ended after the “Axis of Evil” State of the Union address in 2002.
Moving on to Iraq, Amb. Dobbins noted that the foreign policy statements and actions of the Bush administration caused the international community to shy away from fully supporting Iraqi reconstruction. Thus the nation with the most experience in stability operations achieved only poor results, a result that he stated was caused by a calculated ignorance on the part of the reconstruction’s planners. Instead of looking to the American occupation of Germany and Japan post-World War II, he indicated that better historical tests of the nation-building effort would have been the interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Purposeful ignorance of these historical precedents, neighboring countries that are distrustful of our aims, and a martial foreign policy language that hinders policy options are, according to Ambassador Dobbins, the chief hindrances to a successful nation-building effort in Iraq. Before taking questions from the attendees, he closed with this message:
“What our diplomacy needs is a little more nuance and a little less certainty, a little more sophistication and a little less simplicity, a little more cooption and a little less coercion, a little more realism and a little less faith.”