Post-War, Congress Must Assert Itself On International Front

Posted April 8, 2003 at 12:49pm

Dick Lugar. Keep that name in mind in the weeks and months ahead. He may prove to be one of the most significant Members of Congress in a pivotal time in American and world history. [IMGCAP(1)]

Here’s why: When the war ends, probably very soon, Congress will have to consider the post-war problems of governing and reconstructing Iraq. The governance of Iraq is important in and of itself, but it has far more meaning: It will be the vehicle to establish a new world order, shaping governance and power in the age of terrorism, redefining the nexus of power and the dynamics of states and multilateral institutions for a long time to come. The temptation in Congress will be to take the sidelines on this one, save for the obligatory pot shots at the president and gestures to stick it to France, Turkey, etc.

This would be a big mistake. Our leaders will be making huge decisions. We need to make them carefully and unemotionally, with a full focus on their long-term implications and not just on short-term politics. Assuming the war ends swiftly and well (already, the doom-and-gloom reports of the war plan presented just a week or two ago by Seymour Hersh and others look foolish), the hubris level at the White House and the Pentagon will rise to dangerous levels.

There will be some who want to use the occasion to humiliate the French and Germans, shame the U.N. Security Council, supplant the United Nations in significant ways with a new NATO (with minor roles for the French and Germans and a major role for the emerging democracies in Eastern and Central Europe), punish the Russians, Turks, Canadians, Mexicans and others who didn’t back us, and more generally reassert American primacy as the sole superpower in a world otherwise filled with supplicants, subordinates and pissants. And many will want to act quickly to show the other despots, tyrants and corrupt leaders in the Middle East that their days are numbered.

I share some of those sentiments (particularly humiliating the French and Germans, jolting the United Nations out of its complacency as a body that could blithely put Libya in charge of human rights and Saddamite Iraq in charge of disarmament, and sticking it to jackboots like Bashir Assad). But the stakes here are much too high. We do need to confront the challenge of the French, whose opposition to our military action went far beyond tactical or moral considerations; the French want to create a bipolar world, where they lead the counterweight to American hegemony. On Iraq, they were able to craft a broader coalition behind them. We need at minimum to recreate an alliance with the Russians that moves them away from France; ideally, we would do the same thing with Germany.

We need to incorporate the United Nations into a robust and meaningful role in post-war Iraq, one that suits its skills and strengths, dealing with refugees and reconstruction, things we can’t do as well — and should not want to do unilaterally anyhow. It is clear from the way the war has gone that there will be need for a substantial military presence throughout Iraq for a long time, to deal with thugs, terrorists, fedayeen and other agents of Saddam Hussein and evil who will try to melt into the cities and villages and then re-emerge to create havoc. But it is far preferable for that military presence to have a wide multinational representation, to spread the risk, ameliorate the costs and avoid the image of an American conqueror.

Some of that role can perhaps be played via NATO, as we work to recraft its mission from mutual self-defense to a broader coalition in support of democracy, markets and freedom. All of these things should be done in close consort with our main man, Tony Blair, and our prime ally, Great Britain, as a partner, not a secondary sidekick. And we should incorporate in the effort our enduring friends like Canada and Mexico.

We will still have to foot most of the bill. So we need to make sure that shortsighted Members of Congress do not cut back on the necessary cash to ensure a stable world that continues to move toward democracy, and that shows the rest of the world that our goals are both good and benign.

And we have to figure out how to renew our approach to the Middle East, since it is clear that Britain and the rest of Europe, along with every Arab country in the Middle East and most other countries in Asia, will expect us to carry the road map for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This requires an energetic role for the United States, but one which is acutely sensitive to Israel’s security needs and the need for a catalytic move in which we are the prime broker.

In all of this, Congress must play a meaningful role, helping to craft the broad post-war strategy, pushing the White House away from hubris and toward a far-sighted and nuanced set of strategies and policies. Leaders in Congress need to find broad bipartisan support for the right moves, something which the White House will have greater trouble doing on its own, given its difficult relationships with Democratic leaders. Congress can also make the case to the American people, to the administration, and to skeptics on the left and the right.

Here is where Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Lugar comes in. The Indiana Republican has the experience, standing, breadth and toughness to be the point man. His committee spans the ideological spectrum and includes prominent presidential candidates, but has been a model of bipartisanship in a sea of partisan rancor, thanks to both Lugar and his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.). Biden and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) have worked hard to focus public and administration attention on some of these issues. They, along with Lugar and other Members, need to step up, big-time, to force a much larger debate and dialogue on the world and America’s role after Iraq. Lugar has the position, the credibility and the vision. He cannot and should not be passive, waiting for the administration’s lead.

The late, great Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), shortly before he took ill, likened the current period to the end of World War I. In its aftermath, with the vacuum left by the defeat of Germany and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the great powers moved to redraw the map and redefine the nexus of power for generations to come. The British, among other things, created Iraq, drawing together disparate tribal, religious and ethnic entities to satisfy their own political and military objectives.

Even before the end of the war, the British and French were focused heavily on the Middle East; the British in 1917 issued what became known as the Balfour Declaration, proclaiming allegiance to the goal of the creation of a Jewish state, in order to secure Jewish support during the war. It went by the boards after the war, thanks in large part to harsh Arab criticism.

The world order created after WWI collapsed less than two decades later. We have to do better this time. Calling Dick Lugar!