A West Point Conference

Guy Burgess

Co-Director of the University of Colorado Conflict Research Consortium and the Beyond Intractability Project

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: I just got back from a weekend with several professors from West Point, talking about what it would really take to be successful with our invasion of Iraq and to really establish a decently functioning democracy. You come away with there were all these pieces that were needed that weren't there. There's a security piece that you needed to bring in all the reconstruction and the humanitarian relief folks and it's not there, so all the humanitarian relief stuff, which is so essential, is not there. There weren't enough -- in sort of the initial invasion and Iraq is kind of an externally-induced revolution -- there weren't enough soldiers to secure the weapons and there apparently wasn't really a plan to go in and secure the weapons right off the bat. So you miss that piece, and then you have a huge security problem in a country awash with pretty heavy-duty weapons. So that is one of the pieces that wasn't there.

Q: Yeah, it sounds like we missed the landing gear on that plane.

A: It's an unfolding tragedy, and when one thinks about what it would take to fix it, I'm not sure there's an answer. I'm very worried about it at the moment.

Q: What was the perspective of the West Pointers?

A: They understood absolutely what was going on, they were very clear about it, very interested in the work that we're doing. They don't think that soldiers should be in the business of being diplomats and peacemakers, but they realize that in case, after case, after case, they're being asked to do that, so they'd better learn. They're used to thinking of a hierarchically-oriented command and control institution and peacemaking isn't that. So you need to figure out ways to adapt some of our insights that they can use and they need to understand how their work relates to work of the other peace-related fields and how they can provide the logistical support and the security that they need to do their work and start thinking in terms of the big operation. It might be possible to save countries that are confronted with this kind of terrible tyranny, if we can figure out how to do it. I don't think it's impossible, but it sure isn't easy. One of my colleagues was a survivor of the communist regime in Romania and grew up in the Soviet-era tyranny and lost her father to the government and talks about how people who've never lived in a society like that just can't imagine just how horrible it is and how much the everyday people want somebody to come save them. So I'm not of the mind that we should never try to do something like this.