F rom the standpoint of shoring up domestic
support and reminding Americans that for
better or worse the United States is committed to a fairly long run in Iraq, President Bush’s speech Tuesday can be considered a success. Whether it generates notable military, humanitarian or financial support from other countries to carry out the mission in Iraq is more questionable.
The key question in the international community was whether the United States, in seeking more assistance, would cede any effective control of the reconstruction process in Iraq to the United Nations or to anybody else. President Bush didn’t offer to cede control, but to delegate certain tasks, although the promised U.N. resolution might have diplomatically vague language that seems to share power without really doing so.
It seems likely — if only because France now has an interest in being involved in Iraqi reconstruction when contracts and control over oil are allocated — that some kind of resolution will pass. But it’s doubtful whether other countries will step up to offer substantial quantities of troops, supplies or aid workers financed by their taxpayers rather than ours.
The issue would not be so important if the United States would decide that its interests would best be served by a brief occupation — enough to get a reasonably credible Iraqi government in place that could make its own decisions about how much U.N. or other aid or advice it wanted — and bring virtually all of the U.S. troops home. That seems not to be the administration’s intention.
The United States and some other countries seem to be divided over two possible approaches to a transition to an independent Iraqi government. L. Paul Bremer, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice all stress the importance of having an orderly (and by implication relatively lengthy) process that leads to free elections first, while French President Jacques Chirac wants a timetable that leads to U.S. troops being home within a year or less.
The problem with the first approach is that it could lead to the perfect being the enemy of the good and stretching the transition indefinitely. Under the best of circumstances, at every stage decent people will see things that could be better if we just took more time.
With the second approach, being slave to a calendar could lead to a hand-off that could lead to chaos.
The best approach, we believe, would be a timetable that contemplates a full handover to Iraq within a year — but with some flexibility (months, not years) to delay if certain milestones (such as elections, security levels) are not met.