September 08, 2003

Bush's Speech and Bremer's Op-Ed

Bush's Speech and Bremer's Op-Ed

I was at an aiport lounge about to fly Washington DC-London when Dubya's speech came on. Most of the (white, male, conservative-looking) business travellers around me appeared quite skeptical as they listened to the President. And there was an audible sense of sticker shock when the $87BB figure was trotted out ("if you say it fast enough no one will catch it", someone muttered at the airport)

But that is precisely the portion of the President's speech that needs to be applauded. The strongest parts of the speech reflected his intimations that we had embarked on a generational committment, that there would be no Somalia-style retreat, and, putting his money where his mouth is, pushing to get the funds needed for such a mammoth effort.

Also refreshing was his blunt honesty about the "great harm" that had been done to coalition efforts in Iraq. He wasn't suger-coating his message to the American people.

Weaker, in my view, was the portion of the speech that dealt with potentially further internationalizing the Iraq effort. Bush:

"Some countries have requested an explicit authorization of the United Nations Security Council before committing troops to Iraq. I have directed Secretary of State Colin Powell to introduce a new Security Council resolution, which would authorize the creation of a multinational force in Iraq, to be led by America.

I recognize that not all of our friends agreed with our decision to enforce the Security Council resolutions and remove Saddam Hussein from power. Yet we cannot let past differences interfere with present duties. Terrorists in Iraq have attacked representatives of the civilized world, and opposing them must be the cause of the civilized world. Members of the United Nations now have an opportunity -- and the responsibility -- to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation." [my emphasis]

I quibble with Bush's use of the word "responsibility" in this context. Certainly, countries like Germany and France have an "opportunity" to assist the U.S. in Iraq. And, as I've argued before, I believe it is in both countries national interests to help the U.S. by contributing troops. This will allow Berlin and Paris to have a greater voice in developments going forward in the Middle East--while also helping, even if modestly, foster the creation of a successful Iraqi polity which has a significant impact on European stability as well.

But inclusion of the word responsiblity struck me as unnecessary. Too much rancor surrounded the decision to go to war in Iraq with France and Germany obviously having staked out very anti-war positions. Their governing elites, largely against the war, are therefore assuredly not feeling a "responsibility" to rush boots to the ground under a U.S. commander. That's a simple reality we need to keep in mind. Maybe France and Germany should feel a responsibility--but they simply don't at this juncture.

Another key aspect of our approach to the Europeans revolves around the (flippant) French complaint that we are not returning sovereignty to the Iraqis expeditiously enough. Bush addressed this (not in enough detail) thus:

"Iraq is ready to take the next steps toward self-government. The Security Council resolution we introduce will encourage Iraq's Governing Council to submit a plan and a timetable for the drafting of a constitution and for free elections. From the outset, I have expressed confidence in the ability of the Iraqi people to govern themselves. Now they must rise to the responsibilities of a free people and secure the blessings of their own liberty." [my emphasis]

Again, an erroneous use of the R-word. Bush might better have allowed this language to stay in the speech if Iraq was a secured environment with services back on tap. But it's a bit much to asks Iraqis to rise to the responsibility of freedom when many are living in highly chaotic conditions with no water or electricity. And it's language that is not likely to give much comfort to Europeans re: their concerns about Iraqi sovereignty.

That said, Bremer's op-ed in today's WaPo picks off where the President left off regarding how we plan to return sovereignty to the Iraqi people. It's clearly an effort to respond to (mostly) French gripes about needing more detail on how sovereignty will be returned to Iraqis. Powell will be pushing the same message with his counterparts to try to get the key countries on board to bless a U.N. resolution allowing for a multinational force under U.S. command.

But there's one big problem with all of this. Even if a U.N. resolution comes to pass--Powell is only expecting another 15,000 troops to be contributed from other countries. I fear we need at least another 50,000-100,000 U.S. GI's in theater to fully quash resistance, protect infrastructure, get services on tap, and ensure a secured environment is in place to prepare for an eventual handover to the Iraqis.

We can debate whether such forces should be heavily constabulatory or traditional military forces--but passage of a U.N. resolution--allowing for, say, an assortment of 15,000 Indian, Bangladeshi, Turkish, Egyptian and token French forces isn't going to cut it unless we are really lucky.

I prefer a Powell doctrine approach. Make sure you have the requisite forces to win the battle. Ditto the requsite number of constabulatory forces to win the peace. In the Sunni Triangle we are still basically at war. In the Shi'a zones we will likely have to engage in peacemaking if intra-sectrarian violence picks up. In the Kurdish north, luckily so far, we are more in peacekeeping mode. But in none of these areas, with their varied conditions, do we have the requisite number and best force mixture in place now to deal with all the contingencies that may arise.

Bush's speech showed us he is quite serious about the American committment to Iraq--but this Administration still hasn't gotten us to where we need to be if we want to really help assure that historians describe Iraq as a major post 9/11 success story.

Posted by Gregory at September 8, 2003 06:03 PM
Comments

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