Too Late

October 1, 2003 Topic: Security Tags: InsurgencyIraq War

Too Late

 It is time to recognize an unpleasant fact: other states will not contribute funds or personnel in amounts sufficient to alleviate America's burden in Iraq.

 It is time to recognize an unpleasant fact: other states will not contribute funds or personnel in amounts sufficient to alleviate America's burden in Iraq.  Finger-pointing serves no useful purpose (e. g. should the Bush Administration have adopted the Australian approach in obtaining a UN mandate for East Timor immediately after a successful intervention, etc.) 

But it is also time for the political and media elites to level with the American people.  All of this talk about "foreign troops" coming soon to relieve American forces is nothing more than a pipe dream.  No troops--other than a trickle--are on the way.  If a UN Security Council Resolution is passed in the next few months, it is likely to be worded in such an ambiguous fashion as to have little effect in shifting the attitude of other governments to provide real, substantive aid to the U.S.-led reconstruction efforts.

This is the stalemate: other states that could contribute forces or finances have decided not to take part in an American operation.  In other words, they are waiting to see whether the U.S. can "pull it off."  Only in the event of an American "bankruptcy" would there be sufficient motivation to set up a "truly international" trusteeship for Iraq.  The other alternative is to press for a rapid transfer of full sovereignty to an Iraqi administration and then to contract with it directly, after an American departure. 

So, the attitude of most of the Western states not already part of the Coalition, as well as a significant portion of the Middle East and South Asian states that were asked to supply personnel, seems to be that they will be happy to provide support to Iraq once Ambassador Bremer's tenure is completed, not before. 

As such, it appears the United States can expect significant international support only if the United States surrenders a large degree of control over Iraqi affairs.  Efforts to get other states to provide assistance within American-defined parameters, on the other hand, have largely failed.  Under such conditions, one should not expect large promises of aid from the forthcoming donors' conference.

This presents the administration with a real dilemma: for the next six months to a year--a critical pre-election period--the United States will continue to shoulder the Iraq burden largely by itself. 

Having undertaken this enterprise, there is now a considerable risk that the administration will not see it through to its end.  Political pressure to "bring the boys home" and debates over how key domestic needs are not being met will test the mettle of the administration in bringing its plans for Iraq to fruition.

The best way to secure American interests (since electoral politics will soon come to dominate all considerations) is to forge a bipartisan consensus now--on reconstruction, on a timetable when (and under what conditions) sovereignty will be transferred to an Iraqi authority and what the United States is prepared to do alone if other states decline to become involved.

Iraq must be reconstructed with sufficient resources at its disposal to prevent it from becoming a failed state.  It requires a stable government that will be able to accommodate key American interests.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, writing in the Fall 2003 issue of The National Interest, believes that the administration and the Congress must work together to develop policies "to adequately seed the garden to enable peace, prosperity and democracy to take root and to prevent terrorism from returning."  This can only occur if there is a consensus among both parties to take Iraqi reconstruction off the table as an election issue. 

There is no cavalry coming over the hill to bail out the United States in Iraq.  The sooner this is accepted, the sooner we can move to realistic planning about what to do next.


Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of In the National Interest.