Iraq - Past Time To Move On
Terrell E. Arnold

In his address to the United Nations on September 22, 2003, George W. Bush muffed the supreme opportunity of his presidency. For weeks the situation in Iraq had been deteriorating. European powers, especially France, Germany and Russia, whose leaders opposed the war, nonetheless saw the problems and were developing alternative strategies that might have provided more money and troops to deal with the decaying Iraqi scene. Increasing numbers of influential Americans and the public were questioning the wisdom of the venture into Iraq, while looking for ways to support American forces in the field where they are confronting increasing danger. The United Nations organization and leadership were looking for ways to accommodate a US request for help. The US budget deficit was headed for historic highs, and the International Monetary Fund had issued a rare warning about the waning strength of the US dollar. Despite all that, the portents of the UN session on the whole looked pretty good, but Bush waded in as if his main task was to justify the war.
The problem that day was not to justify the war but to convince other nations to help manage the peace and extricate the United States from a badly conceived military engagement. Repeating the charges about Saddam Hussein and WMDs or Saddam Hussein and al Qaida, or Saddam Hussein and 9-11, all of which are now almost universally viewed as false, was not the way to achieve that.
On that ground Bush missed his opportunity. He should have stepped up to that podium and candidly addressed the present situation. He should have hooked his audience on the challenge of deciding what to do now.
Our country actually is in more trouble than it has experienced since the end of World War II. We do not have a global confrontation with any country, but we have non-nation state enemies, some of whom are dangerous merely because they are serious and can command dangerous weapons. We have a leadership cadre that behaves as if the opinions of the whole world are irrelevant to our decisions, and we are squandering the diplomatic achievements of half a century on a narrow and aggressive neo-conservative agenda. We have an elite that is commanding enormous power over public decisions and, with White House and Congressional support, is radically distorting public budgets in their favor while undermining the very concept of democracy. We have a society that does not really think much about where things come from and spends well beyond its means. We are spending blood and treasure on a military venture that should never have been. But the foremost problem is how to extricate ourselves safely and successfully from Iraq.
Iraq cannot be fixed without serious and concentrated international help. With limited coalition support, the United States has learned the hard way that nation building as an occupying power is a nerve-wracking task if it is not entirely hopeless. The US team in Iraq simply cannot overcome the Iraqi sense that the team is there only to serve purely US interests, and that image is making enemies for us as fast as we are making friends in Iraq.
The official explanation is that the trouble spots are all in the Sunni triangle of northwestern Iraq, but that area was the main problem before the war. Here is where the US-led occupation is failing, because here is where Iraqis feel most under attack. Here is where the most detached and non-military international support is essential, because the relationship with the Sunnis must become non-confrontational as quickly as possible. To be sure basic security is a problem where people live in poverty and fight for survival, but those problems are likely to fade with improved overall economic conditions.
What the United States needs from the United Nations and individual powers is focused attention on dealing with the problems presented by Iraq in its present condition. That requires money, skill and most of all dedicated presence. It means that the United States has to recognize its limitations: It simply cannot do this alone. Going it alone or hanging dominantly out front means killing and wounding more Iraqis and getting more Americans killed and wounded. It means a stretched out and costly occupation.
Iraq cannot be managed as an ego trip. It needs the best care and attention the international community can give, and the United States needs to help that happen. In principle the UN membership appears ready to help, but Bush focused at the UN Tuesday on justifying US actions to the American people, not on making a candid appeal to the UN membership for help in putting Iraq back together.
UN members are likely to remain ready to help because they have a realistic view of the effects of failure in Iraq. But to get that support, the Bush team has to adjust to sharing control, authority and, of course, responsibility. There was no apparent interest on Tuesday in helping pull US chestnuts out of the fire. It is time for Bush and his team to recognize that reality and move on.
The writer is a former Senior Foreign Service Officer of the United States Department of State. He welcomes your comments at:




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