With American tanks driving in the streets of central Baghdad, attention is turning to how Iraq will be governed. Governing post-Saddam Iraq will, even under the best of circumstances, be a highly complex and difficult task. But the Bush administration is not helping matters by going about it in a decidedly secretive and unilateralist fashion.
With little congressional scrutiny and no public debate, the Pentagon earlier this year gained effective control of planning and running the post-war transitional administration of Iraq. Its Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs, headed by retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay M. Garner, is now in Kuwait ready to move in as soon as the shooting stops. Garner will be assisted by a team of current and former U.S. officials, who are to run the Iraqi ministries. Everyone involved in the post-war civilian effort—including all other U.S. agencies, international organizations, and nongovernmental aid groups—will be subordinated to Garner’s administration.
Overall control of the effort will be in the hands of Gen. Tommy Franks, who also runs the war. The military forces that will remain in Iraq after the war will provide for security, ensure the country’s territorial integrity, and attempt to locate and destroy weapons of mass destruction.
This approach to Iraq’s post-war administration is unilateralism on steroids. It contemplates nothing less than the wholesale takeover of Iraq not just by the American government, but by the Pentagon. Administration officials counter that they want no such thing—power and control will be handed over to the Iraqi people as soon as possible. But the timing of this handover remains unclear and there is no agreed process to determine which Iraqis should constitute the new authorities. Moreover, even after an interim authority has been established, effective control of Iraq will for some time remain with those who wield the guns—that is, the American and other forces responsible for security.
There are two major problems with this approach. One is that the team assembled by Garner, including the general himself, has little experience in undertaking the momentous task of building and reforming Iraq. While no doubt highly competent, few in the team have been involved in any of the nation-building efforts that have been attempted elsewhere. Very few Americans involved in these earlier efforts have been consulted, and fewer still asked to participate in the operation.
More importantly, the Americanization of the post-war administration will be seen by much of the world—including many Iraqis—as an occupation, and not the liberation the administration insists it is. Official Washington apparently still does not realize how deep the global skepticism of its motives really is. Perhaps this explains why National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice last Friday adopted a spoils-to-the-victor attitude by insisting it was only “natural to expect that after having participated in having liberated Iraq, coalition forces, having given life and blood to liberate Iraq, the coalition would have the leading role” in any post-war administration.
The alternative to the administration’s approach is to internationalize every aspect of the operation while maintaining firm control. This does not require placing the post-war administration under U.N. auspices, as many of America’s European critics now insist. But it does mean getting non-Americans involved in three critical tasks.
First, Garner’s transitional administration must be opened up to more than the few token Britons presently included. There is vast talent abroad, with extraordinary experience in just the kind of administrative tasks that need to be undertaken. Why not reach out to a Bernard Kouchner—founder of Doctors without Borders, former French health minister, the first UN administrator of Kosovo, and a supporter of the war with vast experience in northern Iraq? There are many others able and willing to help. The administration should reach out to them.
Second, while U.S. and British forces have done all the fighting and dying, the task of ensuring post-war security and stability in Iraq is complicated and costly. It is one we should want others to participate in. So why not ask NATO to get involved—an organization that has demonstrated its ability to conduct peace operations in the Balkans? Initial discussions of a NATO role in Iraq in Brussels last week indicated quite a bit of interest among the member nations.
Third, the Iraqi people need to be represented by an interim authority that has legitimacy in the eyes of the people and the world. This is less likely to happen if it is appointed by U.S. officials than if the international community is involved. Britain last week proposed to replicate the process used for Afghanistan, where a U.N. conference provided the forum for setting up a representative interim administration. A similar U.N. process should be used to help establish a representative Iraqi authority charged with administering the country and drawing up new constitutional arrangements.
The Pentagon’s stealth operation for post-war Iraq has caught many by surprise. But it is not too late to internationalize the post-war arrangements. Congress has made a welcome start by denying the president’s request for funding the Pentagon operation and directing the State Department to take the lead instead. And our allies can also help. If in their meeting in Belfast today Tony Blair impresses on President Bush that internationalizing the post-war effort is a prerequisite for Britain joining in, Mr. Bush may be decide this is indeed the wiser course to take.