The International Peace Academy (IPA), an organization run by former U.N. Middle East envoy Terje Rød-Laresen, has assembled this collection of essays by academics and policymakers to shift the Iraq war debate from recrimination to stabilization. By putting aside the controversy about the Iraq war's origins and accepting the assumption that a stable Iraq benefits both Iraqis and the international community, the IPA seeks to elucidate a strategy to move forward. For the editors, who are either present or former IPA employees (Bouillon and Malone) or Canadian diplomats (Malone and Rowswell), this means increasing the role of international organizations such as the United Nations.
They divide the collection into two parts: the first examining contributors to Iraq's instability, security challenges, and sectarian and ethnic challenges; and the second exploring possible solutions.
Iraq: Preventing a New Generation of Conflict sets itself apart from many other Iraq-related essay collections: Most articles are serious, grounding themselves in fact rather than polemic. Even Juan Cole, a University of Michigan professor best known for his polemical and occasionally anti-Semitic web blog postings, writes a serious piece about the Badr Corps, the militia of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. While useful as a summary of newspaper reporting, Cole adds little. He is prone to vanity footnotes—citation of his own work—which might be appropriate had Cole ever visited Iraq. Because he builds and filters his conclusions through newspaper articles, he does not contribute any original insight into the question of the extent of Iranian command-and-control of the Badr Corps.
Jon Pedersen, a former U.N. Development Program (UNDP) official, contributes a chapter on Iraqi living standards. While he documents well their decline, he relies too much on UNDP statistics without any differentiation between cases in which the organization developed its own numbers through fieldwork and those cases in which the UNDP accepted figures provided by the Saddam Hussein regime in the absence of direct access. This is important because it was such Saddam-supplied statistics that underlay activists' conclusions that 500,000 children died under sanctions, a figure now known to be fabricated. Had Pedersen revisited U.N. numbers, he might have broken far more ground.
Looking at solutions, David Cameron, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, contributes a useful theoretical overview of different federalist models that Iraqis might adopt if they can free themselves from their "constitutional straitjacket." Brendan O'Leary's chapter on "Federalizing Natural Resources" is basically a defense of the oil and gas law position of the Kurdistan Regional Government for whom he served as an advisor. This does not diminish O'Leary's work, which is always strong, but had he elucidated the question beyond the Iraqi-Kurdish context, his essay could have contributed more: Southern Iraq accounts for 70 percent of Iraq's oil production. What impact might resource allocation considerations have on the Shi‘i federalist debate?
James Dobbins, a security expert at RAND, breaks no new ground with a chapter on U.S. diplomacy. While advocacy for engagement is a frequent theme of Dobbins' writing, to promote this path without proper consideration of misbehavior by neighboring states undercuts his essay's utility. What happens if Tehran ignores diplomacy or does not alter the behavior of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps? Failure to address this question condemns Dobbins' work to irrelevancy.
The assumption by Jon Alterman, a Center for Strategic and International Studies scholar, that "it would seem intuitive that Iraq's Arab neighbors would want the country's democratic transition to succeed" suggests a profound misunderstanding of Arab politics and elites. The remainder of his essay, though, on Iraq's Arab neighbors, provides thoughtful analysis of regional diplomacy.
Bruce Jones, a longtime U.N. official, examines how the international community can better coordinate and shape reconstruction but fails to address a vital question of concern to U.S. policymakers: Why should any government or organization shape reconstruction in ways that might run contrary to U.S. goals if they are not willing to put "men on the ground" and in harm's way during the military phrase? Should European governments that invest in social welfare programs rather than military infrastructure have the same input into how militaries are used?
While most contributions to Iraq: A New Generation of Conflict are useful, the base line internationalist assumption undercuts the utility of the work to Washington even if it is embraced in the United Nations and Brussels.