Iraq Is Not Just Bush’s War — U.S. Needs to Win It

Posted October 1, 2003 at 4:03pm

Congress should remember that it authorized President Bush to go to war in Iraq, making it America’s war, not just Bush’s. Now, it’s imperative to win the peace.

The point needs to be taken especially by Democrats, who should find a way to mix their denunciations of Bush policy with efforts to make sure Iraq becomes a stable nation. [IMGCAP(1)]

But many Republicans, too, are advocating post-war aid to Iraq in the form of loans instead of grants, which would seriously compromise the U.S. effort to rebuild the country.

There are two major arguments against the loan idea. One is that it would utterly undercut U.S. efforts to convince other nations, notably France and Russia, to forgive debts incurred by the Saddam Hussein regime.

But the better argument is that the United States would unilaterally saddle Iraq with debt without that nation’s government’s consent — because, as yet, there is no government to consent. That’s what occupiers do, not liberators.

While it’s appropriate to raise questions as to whether every item in Bush’s request for Iraq is wise — for instance, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) legitimately asks whether Iraqi companies couldn’t do reconstruction work much cheaper than U.S. contractors — until Iraq has a government, Congress should suck it up and spend the $20 billion Bush is requesting for reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If and when there is a stable, democratic Iraq, this will be viewed as an act of generosity that will cement ties with the United States, the way the Marshall Plan did after World War II in Europe. Marshall Plan aid, valued at more than $100 billion in today’s dollars, went 90 percent in grants and only 10 percent in loans.

There’s no question that Bush should be more like President Harry Truman was in reaching out to the opposition party to win bipartisan support for his policies.

He could find partners. In the lead is Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.), who may well go down in history as this era’s equivalent of Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (Mich.), the Republican Foreign Relations chairman who fashioned a bipartisan Cold War policy with Truman.

Bush ought to adopt Biden’s proposal to cancel one year’s worth of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to pay for his total $87 billion supplemental budget for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, Bush and his fellow Republicans are unlikely to go along with it. If they don’t, Biden has said that the United States still needs to spend the money to keep Iraq from plunging into chaos.

More Democrats need to adopt Biden’s positive stance. Like him, they should be visibly — and sincerely — rooting for U.S. success in producing a stable Iraq. Too many Democrats exhibit near glee at the prospect that Iraq may become a “quagmire.”

It’s not in their interest to do so. Rooting for American failure will win no favor among voters. And, who knows? One of the Democratic candidates could become president in January 2005. If Bush’s Iraq policy fails, the new president will inherit not merely a disastrous situation there but throughout the world.

If Iraq isn’t successfully reconstructed, the citizenry will be more restive, Saddamist and Islamic terrorists will gain more traction and U.S. troops will be in ever greater danger. [IMGCAP(2)]

Moreover, Bush’s failure would reduce America’s reputation for leadership and resolve to rubble. If Bush’s “arrogance” has created international problems, U.S. humiliation would be infinitely worse.

In the last Democratic presidential candidate debate in New York on Sept. 25, as usual only Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.) made a strong positive argument for Bush’s reconstruction money.

“We are involved in a great battle in the war on terrorism,” he said. “Those terrorists have poured in there. They’re attacking Americans. They’re attacking the institutions of civilization: the United Nations, Jordanian Embassy, Muslim mosques. We cannot afford to lose this fight.”

Frontrunner Howard Dean said America has “no choice” but to approve all $87 billion. But on other occasions — including an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” the day before — he said “it’s unlikely that I’d vote for it” unless it was paid for with tax increases.

Newly minted candidate Gen. Wesley Clark at first tried to duck a question about how he’d vote in Congress by saying it was a “hypothetical question,” then said: “We need to make this operation a success … but we need answers on this.”

All the other major candidates — Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) and Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) — said they had so many “tough questions” to ask that it sounded as though they’d end up opposing the $20 billion request.

The only consistent idea that Democrats have come up with for actually winning the peace in Iraq is to “internationalize” the country’s reconstruction and civilian governance by turning it over to the United Nations.

That idea was advanced again this week by Kerry in a speech 80 percent devoted to furious denunciation of Bush for “arrogance and pride” and “sleights of hand masquerading as policy” that “put our troops in greater danger.”

The fact is that Bush has — finally — gone to the United Nations to seek a new resolution, troops from other nations and financial contributions. Other countries, however, have not been rushing to aid the United States — undoubtedly, in part, over pique at the U.S. decision to go to war without them.

Conceivably, Bush could win more help by putting the United Nations totally in charge of Iraqi operations, except that the U.N. has a miserable record of effective nation-building. Kosovo, for instance, still lacks self-government after four years of U.N. rule.

Kerry also suggested that Bush accelerate training of Iraqi security forces. Bush is already doing that.

At least Kerry is pretending to be constructive. He and all the Democrats should try harder — if only because one of them may inherit Iraq.