The Difference between waging War and waging Peace

by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright October 2003

It now October, six months after President Bush officially declared hostilities finished in Iraq, and a couple things are clear:

First, President Bush and his people conducted a "fine war" -- one that by any historic standard looks well conducted.

It is also now clear that the peace is going to be conducted in a much more "average" fashion -- history is not going to praise Bush's conduct of the peace with anywhere near the vigor it praises his conduct of the war.

Why is it that a team that was so good at war-conducting is so average at peace-conducting?

The heart of the difference

The following scenario gets at the heart of the difference between conducting war and conducting peace:

Suppose a military unit during the war approaches a town that is on its path.

Question: Once the military unit assembles outside the town, how many people are required to give the "OK" to occupy the town?

Answer: Just one: the unit commander.

Now, presume the war is won, and the military unit comes back to that same town -- this time with the purpose of reconstructing it for the peace.

Question: Now that it is time to rebuild the town for peace, how many people are required to give the "OK" for: rebuilding the power system, reconstructing the sewer system, repairing roads, getting the police working, getting the rest of the city infrastructure working, and so on.

Answer: Many.

This is the heart of the difference. It takes only a few people to make decisions during war time, but it takes hundreds to thousands to make decisions during peace time. And to make those decisions, these people must communicate with each other, and the world around them.

Cards close to your chest versus community involvement

President Bush and his close advisors have done a wonderful job of convincing Americans that it is "OK" that he hasn't told them the specifics of what he was up to. Because of the 9/11 Crisis and post-9/11 Panic, the American public has supported a very "macho" leadership style. President Bush has been able to get away with a lot of "America will not be bowed" cheer leading. That leadership style has produced the Afghan and Iraq Wars. He has also able to duck a lot of hard questions by pulling the cloak of "national security" around him. And he has done this not just to duck hard questions, but all sorts of questions. For instance, his consistent answer to timetable questions during the Iraq War Crisis was, "A long time", and the American Public and Big Media were satisfied with those answers.

Now the wars have come and gone, and it's time to "wage peace", and in peace time, the rules of the leadership game change.

As illustrated in the scenario above, waging peace is about talking, listening and coordinating. The leadership style of holding your cards close to your chest (revealing as little as you can) does not play well when waging peace. It doesn't play well because there is too much to coordinate, which means there is too much to communicate.

Establishing a "Peace-agon"

As my friend, Martin Prier, puts it. "The US Government has an institution for waging war: we call it the Pentagon. What we need now is an institution for waging peace. I choose to call it, The Peace-agon."

What is the difference between the Pentagon and the Peace-agon?

The Peace-agon Martin has in mind is structured quite differently than the Pentagon. It is structured to be all about opening up lines of communication and cooperation. When a Pentagon official is asked by the Media, "How long will this take?" it will get back the answer, "A long time." with the implied assumption that saying anything more specific will jeopardize national security in some way.

When a Peace-agon official is asked by the Media, "How long will this take?", it will get back not just an elaborate timetable outlining in specific days/months/years of how long it will take, it will get the projected cost, who's involved in making it happen, and what else needs to be done to help the project along. Why will Media get all this? Because coordination is so important in a complex process such a peace building. Media will also get so much because when lots of people know what is needed, lots of serendipitous help can appear. An individual or organization hearing the story may say, "Hey! I can help with that!" and become part of the waging peace process. This serendipitous help can't happen when people can't find out what is happening.

If there was a Peace-agon in charge...

If there were a Peace-agon in charge, the relations with the Media would be quite different. While the news of casualties would still be available to the media, those "discouraging" stories would have to compete with dozens of other kinds of "encouraging" stories that would be about:

to name a few.

The point is: there are hundreds of things going on in Iraq to talk about beside casualties and bombers, but the media needs a "helping hand" in finding these other stories.

And, it wouldn't be just Media that gets a helping hand. The Peace-agon would also be like a Chamber of Commerce -- helping business people to find business opportunities, charity people to find charity opportunities and NGO people to find NGO opportunities.

The difference between a Peace-agon and the State Department

There is a difference between the work of a Peace-agon and the work of the State Department. They are similar, but not the same. The work of the State Department is to protect American interests around the world and be senstive to current events around the world. The work of the Peace-agon is to gather and utilize resources, all kinds of resources, to build a stable Iraq that is ready to become a responsible member of the world community. The goals of the State Department and the Peace-agon have a lot in common, but there is an enormous difference in focus and priorties.


Once again, the point of the Peace-agon is to open up communication. Lots of communication is what is needed to wage peace, and this is a point that the Bush Administration seems to have missed.

-- The End --