The Bush Administration's continuing arrogance in Iraq

Senator Ted Kennedy
The Bush Administration's continuing arrogance in Iraq
Sun Oct 19 01:54:10 2003

The Bush Administration's continuing arrogance in Iraq has forced the best-trained military in the world to act as police officers in a shooting gallery, to carry out police functions for which they are ill-prepared and ill-equipped. For Iraq now and for future crises elsewhere, we need to build support in the international community for a reserve police identified and trained for post-conflict deployments.

It is shocking that the White House is only now beginning to coordinate which agency should be responsible for various tasks. This should not have waited six months. It should have been standard operating procedure from the outset to outline an integrated strategy that meets our military needs, the needs for local policing and reconstruction, and the need for progress in achieving a free and legitimate Iraqi government. They go hand-in-hand. But none can succeed unless basic security is guaranteed.

The Administration's policy of rushing to put large multibillion-dollar contracts in the hands of American firms ignores not only the lesson of history but also the lesson of human nature -- the Iraqi people need to be the real partners in the reconstruction effort.

The Administration is wrongly working from the top down, rather than the bottom up, to rebuild Iraq. A new Iraq will emerge neighborhood by neighborhood, town by town, province by province. How can any Republican President of the United States disagree that government must be of the people, by the people, and for the people?

We need closer alignment between military units working on reconstruction and the civilians working at the Coalition Provisional Authority. Our soldiers in the field are surveying the damage and identifying priorities for repair. They need local counterparts. We cannot solve every problem from Saddam's palace in Baghdad.

Why not scale back the lavish resources being provided to U.S. contractors and consultants and provide larger sums directly to the Iraqi people? We could do so in many cases by developing ties between local councils and the Iraqi Governing Council. We could work more with local non-governmental organizations and local businesses. In all cases, we need to insist on transparency in the process, so we know where the funding is going.

It's the Iraqi people's country. They have the greatest stake in the success of the reconstruction, and involving them now will enhance the prospects for success.

In some areas of Iraq, we already have been able to achieve impressive results with small amounts of money. In one case, we funded the building of a cement factory for less than $100,000, when the bid by an American contractor for the same project was in the millions. Why not do more of this with schools, medical clinics, roads and countless other projects?

Iraq has many of the best-trained petroleum engineers in the world. Why not give them -- rather than American companies -- a larger role in rebuilding the industry? Why not create jobs for Iraqis and give them ownership of their reconstruction?

If we insist on saying Halliburton rules, because to the victor belong the spoils, we won't be the victor for very long.

The Administration's policy in Iraq ignores the indisputable lesson of history that building democracy is complex and difficult.

When the British accepted responsibility for the new nation of Iraq after the fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, they encountered enormous difficulties in creating a stable government across Sunni, Shia, Kurd and other ethnic and religious groups. Many Kurds wanted their own state – and still do. Tensions have existed between Sunni and Shia for 13 centuries. Iraq had no history of unity.

In the words of one tribal chieftain, "History did not die; the tribes and notables who emerged in 1920 and created our modern state in 1921 are here to stay with all the others who came into being thereafter."

Instead of learning from this painful history, we condemned ourselves to repeat it. Instead of anticipating the obviously similar and predictable divisions and demands when Saddam's regime fell, the Bush Administration believed that a few favored Iraqi exile leaders, many of them in exile for years, could return to Iraq, rally the population and lead the new government. That was another failure. The Iraqi people rejected them from the start and resisted their domination.

The Administration believed that once a few hundred top advisers to Saddam were removed from power, large numbers of local officials would remain to run the government. Instead the collapse of government in Baghdad rippled across the country.

If history is any guide, America will not be able to impose our vision of democracy on the Iraqi people on our current terms and our timetable. Our overarching interest is the development of a government that has legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens, so that the longer process of building durable democratic institutions can proceed effectively in the years to come. This process will not be finished swiftly, or easily, and it will not take place according to our will.

Iraq is a society where, for the full 30 years of Saddam's rule, politics ruled from the top. It will take time for the Iraqi people to adjust to the new decentralization of power and to understand how the multiple levels of a working democratic government can function effectively.

The Administration clings to the hope that the Iraqi Governing Council -- 25 people, many of whom have never worked together before -- can adopt a constitution in time to hold successful elections next year.

On July 23, Ambassador Bremer said that it "should be possible" to have elections next year.

On September 26, Secretary of State Powell gave the Iraqis six months to write a constitution.

In Bosnia, the United States pressed for national elections the first year, before viable local democratic political institutions were developed, and it made the development of democracy more difficult. Based on the historical precedents, a recent RAND publication suggests holding national elections roughly two years after reconstruction begins. The International Crisis Group also reached the conclusion that it could take two years before national elections should be held.

The lesson is clear. We cannot rush. It is not surprising that our insistence on such speed is alienating the many Iraqis who know the process needs more time. The date of their national election should not be determined by the date of ours.

Imposing our will and our timetable on the Iraqi people will undermine our all-important long-term goal of achieving a legitimate Iraqi government committed to remaining on the path to democracy. Already, the Interim Governing Council lacks credibility in the eyes of many Iraqis. On paper, it has broad power, but that fools no one. It is controlled by the United States, and it lacks sufficient power to meet the Iraqi people's needs.

The Administration needs to give greater priority to restoring sovereignty and help lay the groundwork for approving a constitution and holding national elections. In Afghanistan, we obtained the support of the international community for an interim government that was not under American occupation. That process can still work in Iraq, although it would have clearly worked better from the start. As we did in Afghanistan, we need a process to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqis, who in turn, can ask the US and UN for assistance.

If the United States is seen as controlling the new government in Baghdad, it will fail -- if not now, then later; if not while our forces are still there, then as soon as they are gone. Those who work with such a government are easily dismissed by the Iraqi people as American puppets. We must take the time necessary to give Iraqis the ownership of their government, if we expect it to have any credibility and staying power.

Whether the Bush Administration likes it or not, they need a central role for the United Nations to help accomplish this goal. Before becoming National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice seemed to understand this.

In a January 2000 article in Foreign Affairs, she wrote: "U.S. interests are served by having strong alliances and can be promoted within the U.N. and other multilateral organizations...".

She wrote: "The president must remember that the military is a special instrument. It is lethal, and it is meant to be. It is not a civilian police force. It is not a political referee, and it is most certainly not designed to build a civilian society."

Condi Rice's words indict the Administration's own policy now. It is essential to involve the international community as an active and equal partner in the political transition of Iraq.

We need to give the UN a central role. The Administration's decision to go back to the United Nations is a first step, but it's meaningful only if the Administration is genuinely changing its policy. The real test will be whether the Administration is now willing to make the compromises necessary to persuade other countries to contribute troops to relieve our soldiers and to bring stability to Iraq. The jury is still out on whether the UN resolution will mark a real shift by the Administration.

We know from experience of the past decade in this post-Cold War world, in Bosnia, in Kosovo, and in other devastated lands, that we can enlist the international community in a major way. We can share responsibility and authority, draw on the strengths and the diversity of the United Nations, achieve security and reconstruction, and an end to the occupation. For many months, the Administration has been wrong to try to bypass the United Nations by enticing a few receptive nations to join us if the price is right.

No one doubts that the United States should remain in charge of the military operation. But internationalizing the reconstruction is not a luxury; it is an imperative. Sharing authority with the United Nations to manage the transition to democracy will give the process legitimacy and gradually dispel the current stigma of occupation -- especially if it is accompanied by the creation of a more fully representative interim governing council to deal with day-to-day administrative responsibilities.

As soon as possible, we need to redouble the effort to bring in forces with regional faces-- especially Muslim faces. Nations such as Jordan, Pakistan, and Egypt could immediately transform this mission with both their diversity and their expertise. The United Arab Emirates contributed effectively to the effort in Kosovo. Morocco and Albania have worked with us in Bosnia. That strategy can work for us in Iraq now as well.

In their joint memoir, "A World Transformed," President George H.W. Bush and his National Security Adviser, Brent Scowcroft, reflected on their own experiences with Iraq and the Gulf War in 1991. They had been criticized in some quarters for halting that war after their dramatic victory in Kuwait, instead of going on to Baghdad to depose Saddam Hussein.

Here is what they wrote: "Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in 'mission creep,' and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible...We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, there was no viable 'exit strategy' we could see...Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different--and perhaps barren--outcome."

They were right.

It is time for this Administration to admit that it was wrong, and turn in a new direction. We need a genuine plan that acknowledges the realities on the ground. We need a plan that gives real authority to the United Nations, so that other nations truly will share the burden. We need to actively engage the Iraqi people in governing and rebuilding their country. Our soldiers now risking their lives in Iraq deserve no less.

Here at home, all Americans are being asked to bear the burden too – and they deserve more than a phony summons to support our troops by pursuing policies that will only condemn them to greater and greater danger. Yes, we must stay the course -- but not the wrong course.


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