Yesterday’s New York Times contained an op-ed by Andrew Erdmann, former National Security Council advisor on Iraq under President George W. Bush and previously a senior advisor to Iraq’s Ministry for Higher Education, on the need for comprehensive institutional engagement with Iraq. Regardless of what decision is ultimately made with respect to the timing and the pace of any withdrawal of U.S. military forces, Erdmann contends that “a broader, more diverse engagement with Iraqi society is needed to help Iraqis develop the institutions and values essential to real and enduring democracy.”
The needs of Iraqi civic institutions, from the news media and universities to professional associations and nongovernmental organizations, are both vast and urgent. While the National Endowment for Democracy, the United States Agency for International Development and others have done important work to bolster such groups, overall, American efforts have so far been inadequate.
While the U.S. government needs to do more in this realm, Erdmann argues, “Americans of all types – including educators, management consultants and municipal officials – can contribute and need to step forward.”
To many ears, it sounds unrealistic, even idealistic, to say that we should begin concentrating our efforts on improving Iraq’s civic life at its grassroots. But such a strategy is a realistic response to the challenges we and our Iraqi allies face, as well as a hedge against possible reversals.
You can find a description of civic institution building activities CIPE has undertaken in Iraq on our website.