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A Wish List for Post-War Iraq:
Can the U.S. Get Back International Support By "Winning the Peace"?


Friday, Apr. 18, 2003

Since 9/11, the Bush Administration has managed to transform the sympathy of most of the world community into feelings of hatred and distrust. The responsibility for the turnaround can be laid at the doorstep of the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz clique that controlled the planning for the war against Iraq.

In one fell swoop, the United States both asserted its authority to conduct a unilateral war without international support, and its authority to wage "preventive" or "preemptive" war without the justification of any recent or imminent attack. In so doing, it has forced other nations - allies or not - to reevaluate their views of the United States.

Will the U.S. - having achieved its military objectives - do better in the postwar era in Iraq? Let's hope so. Ideally, the postwar era will bring freedom and some sort of democratic structure to this war-torn country, so that Iraq becomes a "democratic model" for the Middle East.

But if these goals are to become reality, certain steps must be taken. What follows is a "wish list" of the actions I hope postwar planners will take to ensure that Operation Iraqi Freedom will not have turned out to be a misguided mission.

The First Wish: The U.S. Reaches Out to the World and Mends Relations

First, it is paramount for the Bush administration to reach out to the European community and the United Nations. Granted, France and Russia, among others, have their own diplomatic agendas when it comes to Iraq. Still, the United States must make every effort to try to restore a working relationship with them.

How? One step would be for the Bush team to solve its internal squabbles - in particular, the fight between the Defense Department and the State Department for control over postwar Iraq.

The best course would be for the State Department to take the lead in letting the United Nations have more than a humanitarian role in constructing a post-war government. Indeed, the U.N. needs to assume a major role, if the process is to achieve legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people, the Arab world, and the world community.

Whatever governmental structure is decided upon, it will have its critics. U.N. participation in the formation and administration of the postwar government should do much to counter those critics' charges.

The Second Wish: A De-Baathified, Representative Government

As Secretary of State Powell told Javiar Solana of the European Union, "we want an interim, authority that is representative of all groups who have an interest in the future of Iraq." To achieve this, as Robin Wright has pointed out, a national constitutional congress should be held - one that would bring together Iraqis from all regions, tribes, and ethnic groups to choose an interim authority. (The Pentagon has indicated that it may instead rely heavily on the Iraqi exiles of the National Iraqi Congress, headed by Ahmed Chalabi, but that would be a mistake.)

The Iraqi people should not be locked out of the process. They must be integrated into the decisionmaking apparatus, and must assume important positions in the interim government, and relating to the constitutional congress. But that presents a delicate problem: Should Iraqis previously loyal to Saddam be included in the new government, and on what terms?

The answer, I believe, is yes - but only after a de-Baathification program, similar to the de-Nazification that took place after World War II.

The Baath Party has a membership of about 1.5 million, with roughly 250,000 important players who control the Iraqi infrastructure. Planners must figure out how to persuade many of these individuals to sincerely switch their allegiances, and must incorporate them in the new government.

The reality is that the United States can not rely totally on non-Baath Party members to run a post-war Iraq once occupation ends. And that suggests that it is best if Baath Party members who can be convinced to truly switch sides can be included from the start.

In general, it will greatly facilitate the legitimacy of a new Iraqi government if the U.S. can integrate the most qualified Iraqis, representing as large a cross-section of the Iraqi populace as possible.

A Third Wish: Debt Relief for the New Government

My third wish is that the new government will enjoy the benefits of debt relief.

At present, the Iraqi economy suffers from high unemployment, a shaky currency, galloping inflation, mounting debt, and a crumbling infrastructure. Iraq's external debt is currently $60-130 billion, and compensation claims against it amount to $200 billion. The result is a debt burden of $16,000 per Iraqi citizen.

Many, if not all, of these woes are the result of Saddam's actions and the sanctions that penalized them. As a result, it only makes sense that the new government should be free, insofar as it is possible, of Saddam's damaging financial legacy.

As Warren Vieth argued in an April 4 Los Angeles Times editorial, the only solution is a Marshall Plan-type program to prevent Iraq from going "chapter eleven."

Oil production is seen as a panacea to solve Iraq's economic and rebuilding costs. But when the war ends, oil prices will probably decline - thereby reducing Iraq's oil revenues, and creating an even greater need for forgiveness of a major portion of Iraq's debt.

This goal is closely linked with the goal of restoring relations with the U.N. and the world community. A significant amount of Iraq's debt is owed to France and Russia, who now must wonder if they will ever be paid, and wonder how much repayment they should settle for - if any.

After the war in Kosovo, 80% of Yugoslavia's debt was forgiven. The same policy must be pursued in relation to Iraq. Perhaps the U.N. or U.S. should cover some of France and Russia's losses - but however the debt is covered, the key is that Iraq's new government should not have to shoulder the financial burden Saddam imposed, if it is to be viable.

A Fourth Wish: Show the World That Oil Was Not the War's Secret Rationale

Once Iraq's political and economic problems are addressed, the United States needs to dispel a belief that exists in much of the Arab world: The skeptical claim that the war was fought not for the reasons the U.S. claims, but really for control of Iraqi oil fields.

As Daniel Yergin has pointed out, "what will unfold in Iraq will remind us how tightly woven oil and nationalism--national unity--can be." If the United States does not turn over the oil fields to Iraqi administrators and workers, it will court disaster - seeming to prove its critics right.

A Fifth and Final Wish: Keep Pursuing a Palestinian State

The last wish I have for the postwar planners is that they do not sideline the Palestinian problem. Under the prodding of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Bush announced his "roadmap for peace" before the war. Washington must pursue this roadmap immediately, or risk disaster.

Putting the Palestinians on the back burner, hoping they will not cause too much difficulty, was always folly - but it would be especially catastrophic folly now. The Arab world would see the sidelining of the issue as a continuation of Washington's double standard when it comes to Israel.

Winning the Peace Means Winning Trust

Winning back trust is a key theme of all of these wishes. At stake is the trust of the Iraqi people; the Arab world, including the Palestinians; the U.N.; and the world communities, including the U.S.'s alienated allies. Pursuing the war unilaterally, America squandered trust. Now it must win it back to "win the peace."

Of course, there are no guarantees that if my five wishes are granted by postwar planners, the "democratic utopia" supposedly sought by the Bush administration will be achieved. But it does seem quite certain that if all these wishes are ignored, postwar Iraq could turn into another version of 1970s and 80s Lebanon: chaotic, dangerous, and unstable.

Steven Freiberger is a history teacher at Middlesex School in Concord, MA. He has been an educator for thirty years at the secondary and the college level and has earned many awards for his teaching. He completed his Ph.D at Rutgers University and is the author of Dawn Over Suez, a monograph dealing with American foreign policy in the Middle East during the 1950s. He is married and has two children.

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