20 Years After the Iraq War, China-Russia Ties, Correctional Education: RAND Weekly Recap


RAND Weekly Recap

March 24, 2023

This week, we discuss the complex legacy of the Iraq War; why China and Russia are getting closer; how the pandemic affected correctional education; understanding the Russian General Staff; tensions between the U.S. and North Korea; and how teachers feel about restrictions on classroom discussions about race and gender.

A statue of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein remains in front of a destroyed communication center in Baghdad, Iraq, March 28, 2003, photo by Reuters Photographer/Reuters

Photo by Reuters

Twenty Years After the Iraq War: RAND Experts Reflect

On March 20, 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, setting off a long, costly, and bloody conflict—the effects of which are still being felt around the world today. We asked a group of RAND experts about the complicated legacy of the Iraq War, lessons the U.S. military learned (or didn't learn), the state of the Middle East today, and more.

Here's just a sample of what they had to say:

  • “We should remember that we are only just beginning to understand the legacy,” said senior policy researcher Michelle Grisé. “We will gradually learn more about how the war has shaped the future of Iraq, geopolitical dynamics in the region, and our own political discourse.”
  • Senior political scientist Michael Mazarr: “Iraq was the worst symptom of a larger malady—the Global War on Terror—which…ought to be viewed as one of the most disastrous strategic misjudgments in U.S. history.”
  • Ambassador Charles Ries pointed out that the continued existence of party-based militias in Iraq is “grounds for deep concern as they seek to establish and defend specific territories in Iraq to the detriment of national development.”
  • Kayla Williams, a senior policy researcher, former assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and an Iraq War veteran, emphasized the physical, mental, and emotional wounds experienced by those who served—and the long-term costs of providing veterans the care that they need.
  • Jonathan Wong, associate director of the RAND Arroyo Center's Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program, is a former Marine Corps infantryman with two combat tours in Iraq. He said that he sees “little enthusiasm for thinking deeply about the lessons that could be learned and adapted to current adversaries.”
  • Raphael Cohen, director of RAND Project AIR FORCE's Strategy and Doctrine Program and an Iraq War veteran, said the conflict has left Americans questioning not only the viability of armed nation-building but whether “the United States should be militarily involved abroad at all.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting on the sidelines of a BRICS summit, in Brasilia, Brazil, November 13, 2019, photo by Ramil Sitdikov/Sputnik via Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting in Brasilia, Brazil, November 13, 2019

Photo by Ramil Sitdikov/Sputnik/Reuters

China-Russia Ties Are Strengthening

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this week. A 2021 RAND report provides some context for this visit. Overall, the findings suggest that the China-Russia relationship is likely to keep growing stronger. Not only do the two countries share a perceived threat from the United States, but they also benefit from cooperation on key issues. Further, as lead author Andrew Radin pointed out on Twitter this week, sanctions from the war in Ukraine could make Russia more dependent on China.

A man exits the Metropolitan Detention Center, which is operated by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons, during the COVID-19 outbreak in Brooklyn, New York, December 8, 2020, photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

A man exits the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, December 8, 2020

Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

How Did COVID-19 Affect Correctional Education?

The pandemic continues to have profound effects on society. However, discussions about these lingering impacts often omit the 1.2 million incarcerated adults in federal and state prisons. A new RAND report examines COVID-19 infection rates in U.S. prisons, assesses the immediate effects of COVID-19 on prison education programs, and considers potential long-term changes to correctional education that may result from the pandemic.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd L), Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (L), and Chief of the General Staff of Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov (2nd R) watch the Zapad-2017 war games held by Russian and Belarussian servicemen, in the Leningrad region, Russia, September 18, 2017, photo by Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin and members of the Russian General Staff, Leningrad region, Russia, September 18, 2017

Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin/Reuters

Understanding the Russian General Staff

The Russian General Staff has broad authority to ensure the defense of the Russian state. It is unlike any single organization within the U.S. defense establishment. A new RAND report looks at this institution's capacity to influence Russia's national security decisionmaking. Although the analysis focuses on fighting in Ukraine from 2014 to 2021 and in Syria from 2015 to 2019, the authors identify issues that may at least partly explain the Russian military's struggles since the wider invasion of Ukraine began in early 2022.

Photo by KCNA/Pool/Latin America News Agency via Reuters Connect

“Strategic cruise missile” launching exercises in Kim Chaek, North Korea, February 23, 2023

Photo by KCNA/Pool/Latin America News Agency/Reuters

North Korea Is Forcing U.S. Military Counters

According to recent reports, U.S. Indo-Pacific commander Admiral John Aquilino has said that the United States would “immediately” shoot down any intercontinental ballistic missile fired over Guam or into the Pacific region. North Korean officials responded, stating that such an act would be “regarded as a clear declaration of war against the DPRK.” Is Pyongyang forcing Washington's hand? RAND's Bruce Bennett breaks down the latest tense exchange in U.S.-North Korea relations.

A teacher using a tablet computer in an elementary school lesson, photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

Amplifying Teachers' Voices: Q&A with RAND's Ashley Woo

At least 18 U.S. states have restricted how teachers can address topics related to race, gender, and other “divisive concepts” in the classroom. A recent RAND survey asked more than 8,000 teachers how these restrictions—and the national debate surrounding them—affect their work. In a new Q&A, lead author Ashley Woo, a former elementary school teacher, discusses the study findings, why the data is meaningful to policymakers, and how she hopes to continue highlighting educators' voices through her research.

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