Iraq Reconstruction Is a Noble Cause That Mustn’t Fail

Posted November 5, 2003 at 2:21pm

In January 1946, seven months after V-E Day, the eminent novelist John DosPassos wrote after a trip to Europe that U.S. servicemen were telling him, “We’ve lost the peace. We can’t make it stick.” [IMGCAP(1)]

In an article in Life magazine, he wrote that “A tour of the beaten-up cities of Europe … is a mighty sobering experience. Europeans, friend and foe alike, look you accusingly in the face and tell how bitterly they are disappointed in you as an American.

“They cite the evolution of the word ‘liberation.’ Before the Normandy landings, it meant to be freed from the tyranny of the Nazis. Now it stands in the minds of the civilians for one thing: looting.”

If this sounds familiar in the aftermath of the Iraq war, it goes on: “Instead of coming in with a bold plan of relief and reconstruction, we came in full of evasions and apologies. … We have swept away Hitlerism, but a great many Europeans feel that the cure has been worse than the disease.”

It was another year after this article was written before Secretary of State George Marshall delivered his celebrated speech at Harvard University launching the Marshall Plan for European relief.

By contrast, Congress gave final approval this week, six months after the Iraq war, to the contemporary version of the Marshall Plan: the $20 billion downpayment on Iraqi reconstruction. At that, reconstruction was already under way.

We succeeded grandly in Europe in one of the most generous and idealistic — and also pragmatic — undertakings in American history. [IMGCAP(2)]

Prior to America’s making the effort, DosPassos noted, Winston Churchill made a speech in which he warned Americans, “You must be prepared for further efforts of mind and body and further sacrifices to great causes, if you are not to fall back into the rut of inertia, the confusion of aim and the craven fear of being great.”

It’s sad that we don’t have a Churchill around to affirm the morality of what America is doing in Iraq: We have toppled a monstrous dictator and we are trying to rebuild his shattered country, turn it into a democracy and make it an example to a region that knows only authoritarianism and despotism.

It is a noble cause that President Bush has undertaken. His adversaries at home and abroad say that he got us into it by deception, but what could possibly have been his motive?

The “war for oil” charge is simply laughable. The “war for politics” charge — that it was done to help Republicans — is outrageous.

The “war for ideology” analysis makes more sense — i.e., that “neo-conservatives” in Bush’s administration wanted to topple Saddam Hussein from Day One. But why did they want to do so, if they didn’t think he represented a menace to U.S. security?

Bush’s Democratic foes are charging that Bush trumped up evidence of Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction. But the fact is that every intelligence service in the world believed he had them — how else could Bush have won a unanimous vote at the U.N. Security Council to give Hussein one final chance to account for them?

How and why the United States got into the war in the first place will be hashed out for the rest of this presidential campaign and beyond, but the important thing now is to win the peace.

Whatever their differences on whether the war should have been fought or how the peace is being won, even Bush’s harshest foes ought to admit that what he’s undertaking is an idealistic enterprise.

If Democrats are proud of America’s intervention in Kosovo and remorseful of our failure to intervene to prevent genocide in Rwanda, how can they not support an effort to establish democracy in Iraq?

Moreover, what Bush is doing is not only Wilsonian, it’s also pragmatic. In 1946, the danger was that if America failed in Europe, Russia would take over. In 2003, if the United States fails, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden succeed.

There’s no question that the effort is going to be difficult — or even that Bush miscalculated the difficulties and didn’t plan well enough for them.

But contrary to the charge that he “has no plan,” he plainly does now. As stated by U.S. Iraq Administrator Paul Bremer, it is to (1) “establish a secure environment by taking direct action against terrorists … and restore urgent and essential services to the country, (2) expand international cooperation in the security and reconstruction and (3) accelerate the orderly transition to self-government by the Iraqis.”

Can this be brought off? The jury is very much out. Our forces and Iraqis who side with us are under constant attack, at least in Sunni-dominated areas of the country. The international community — ever so solicitous of Iraqi citizens’ welfare under economic sanctions — either wants us to fail or has been scared off by bombings.

The vast majority of Iraqis clearly want stability and self-rule. For our sake and for theirs, it’s imperative that we stay the course and do this right — and not allow vicious killers to force us out too early.

It would be a catastrophe, both for the Iraqis who are working with us and for our standing in the world, if this effort were to fail. Fortunately, polls indicate that most Americans want to stay the course. It’s time for Bush’s critics to quit just carping and contribute constructive ideas on how to make this effort succeed. If it does, all of us will be very proud.